The Chinese authorities must immediately release prisoners of conscience Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, Amnesty International said today, a year after the jailed activist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and his wife placed under illegal house arrest.
Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” following an unfair trial. Contrary to China’s own laws, he had been held in incommunicado detention since December 2008. Liu Xia, an artist and poet, has been living in enforced isolation at her Beijing home since 8 October last year.
“Within hours of the announcement that her husband had been awarded the Nobel peace prize, the police made Liu Xia a virtual prisoner in her own home,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Asia Pacific.
“Without being charged with any crime, without trial or any other judicial procedure, and without any means to challenge her detention, Liu Xia was placed under illegal house arrest and since then has all but disappeared, simply for being the wife of a renowned government critic.
“Liu Xiabo must be released immediately and unconditionally and all restrictions on Liu Xia must be lifted,” she added.
Liu Xia was last heard from in February 2011 when she briefly managed to be in touch with a friend
During their short online chat, Liu Xia said that she was feeling miserable, was unable to go out and that her whole family was being held hostage.
Only Liu Xia’s mother, who lives in the same housing complex, is occasionally allowed to see her but she and other family members are pressured by the police not to divulge any details of Liu Xia’s situation. Media reports indicate that her brother in law was permitted to see her for the first time last week.
According to unofficial reports, Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo have been allowed to meet twice since January this year.
“In depriving Liu Xia of her liberty, the government makes no pretence at legality.” Catherine Baber said.
In March 2011, the authorities told the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is investigating her case, that “no legal enforcement measure” had been taken against her.
Before he was formally arrested, the authorities claimed that Liu Xiaobo was held under “residential surveillance”, a form of house arrest for criminal suspects and defendants stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Law.
However, contrary to that law, the authorities moved him from his home and family and kept him in isolation at an unknown location.
Amnesty International is extremely concerned about recently published draft versions of China’s Criminal Procedure Law that would enable the police to hold suspects under a form of “residential surveillance” for up to six months – but not in their own home.
Family members would not be informed of either the reasons for or the location of their detention when the case is alleged to involve crimes of “endangering state security”, “terrorism”, or when notification would “damage the investigation”.
“The Chinese authorities seem intent on silencing any form of dissent. This unlawful and seemingly relentless crackdown on activists must end, “said Catherine Baber
This year, Chinese authorities have shown similar disregard of national laws and regulations through the detentions of more than 130 activists, bloggers and lawyers in the so-called “Jasmine crackdown”, an attempt to prevent demonstrations inspired by events in the Middle East from happening in China.
The majority of the activists, bloggers and lawyers were detained incommunicado at unknown locations without any formal notification of their arrest ever being issued.
Many of those now released have remained silent about their experiences out of fear of further repercussions. However, friends have been able to describe some of the consequences of their ordeal: weight loss, loss of memory, insomnia, and other signs of trauma.
Those who have spoken out about their detention – including internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, Jiang Tianyong and Liu Shihui, both human rights lawyers – have revealed how they were beaten and kicked, repeatedly interrogated, kept under constant watch and deprived of sleep, made to sit motionless for up to 15 hours.
Others, including blogger Wang Lihong and human rights activist Ding Mao, have been tried and imprisoned or are still in detention awaiting trial for alleged crimes such as “inciting subversion of state power”.