BEIJING – Imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo has been transferred to a hospital after being diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, his former lawyer said Monday.
The deteriorating health of China’s best-known political prisoner was immediately met with dismay by the country’s beleaguered community of rights activists and lawyers, who called it a blow to the democracy movement.
Liu, 61, is receiving treatment at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, lawyer Mo Shaoping told press. Liu was diagnosed on May 23 and prison authorities then granted him medical parole, though it was not clear exactly when he was transferred to the hospital, Mo said.
Liu, a literary critic and China’s most prominent democracy campaigner, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 after being convicted of inciting state subversion for writing and disseminating Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for an end to single-party rule.
The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the Norway-based Nobel committee, which cheered China’s fractured, persecuted dissident community and brought calls from the U.S., Germany and others for Liu’s release, but also infuriated Beijing. In April, Beijing finally normalized relations with Oslo after a six-year hiatus.
It was unclear what exact treatment Liu was receiving but as of 10 days ago his condition was stable, Mo said, citing Liu’s family. He noted, however, that medical parole is only granted to prisoners who are gravely ill and unable to be treated at the prison’s medical facilities.
Mo said Liu was likely to be closely guarded at the China Medical University No. 1 Affiliated Hospital in Shenyang and unable to receive visits from friends or return home. “Normally, most people will be allowed to go home, or to be with their families, or hospitals, but Liu Xiaobo is a special case,” Mo said.
“I don’t think he will be allowed to meet with people other than close relatives,” he added.
Mo said he believed Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, had traveled to the city. At Liu’s apartment building in Beijing, journalists were accosted Monday by half a dozen plainclothes and other security officers and physically blocked from going beyond the first floor.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said Monday he was not aware of the latest development in Liu’s case.
The news of Liu’s diagnosis shocked and saddened fellow human rights activists who have admired the sacrifices Liu and his wife have made in the hope of achieving peaceful political change. Activists have also been alarmed by Liu Xia’s gradual descent into depression after the soft-spoken poet and artist was forcibly sequestered by state security at home during her husband’s imprisonment.
“It’s known that Liu Xiaobo and his family have made a tremendous sacrifice for the cause of freedom and democracy in China,” said Shanghai-based legal scholar Zhang Xuezhong. “This is unfortunate news for him and his family, and it’s a blow to China’s democracy movement, as so many people have placed hope in him, and rightfully so.”
Zhang said no effort should be spared in treating Liu, and his family must be fully informed of his treatment plans. “His life is so important that I think he should get the best possible treatment with full knowledge of his family, even if his family has to make agreements” with the government, Zhang said.
Guo Yuhua, a professor of sociology at the elite Tsinghua University in Beijing, said she was angered by the news. “Those with conscience have given so much to this country, yet they are persecuted by the totalitarian rule,” she told AP. “Those who have done evil will sooner or later be held accountable, and written into the history to be spat on forever.”
She urged Beijing to provide the best medical treatment for Liu and facilitate his travel if he and his family wish to seek treatment outside China. “Life and dignity should be first and foremost in this case,” Guo said.