Wife of detained Chinese Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo says she, family are ‘hostages’

February 20, 2011

Liu Xia, wife of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, was able to briefly break her government-imposed silence last week and tell a friend in an Internet chat that she was “miserable,” was being held at home against her will and had seen her husband just once since his Nobel award was announced in October, according to the friend’s transcript of the conversation.

“I’m crazy,” Liu Xia wrote in her first known communication since she disappeared from public view more than four months ago.

The chat took place after Liu Xia succeeded in getting an Internet connection for about five minutes late Thursday evening, while Chinese were celebrating the Lantern Festival, the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations. Her friend happened to be online at the time.

The transcript of the brief exchanges showed the exact period that Liu Xia was online and sent her messages, as well as her e-mail address. The friend, through an intermediary, provided The Washington Post with a copy, hoping to make her words public and let the world know of her condition.

The Post could not independently verify the authenticity of the transcript. But another friend of Liu Xiaobo’s, writer and activist Mo Zhixu, confirmed that he also saw Liu Xia online at the same time, although he was not able to chat with her.

“I don’t know how I managed to get online,” Liu Xia wrote to the friend in her post. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.”

The friend asked, “Are you at home?”

“Yes,” Liu Xia responded, writing in Pinyin, the Chinese transliteration system. She said she was using an old computer and apparently could not type Chinese characters.

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia said. Later she wrote, “I only saw him once,” apparently referring to her husband, Liu Xiaobo.

“So miserable,” she wrote. “Don’t talk.”

“I’m crying,” she added. “Nobody can help me.”

The friend said he was worried about causing her more trouble but offered words of support, writing: “Please log out first. We miss you and support you. We will wait for you outside.”

She replied “Goodbye” and “Okay,” and the chat ended.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 after the 53-year-old literary scholar was convicted of “inciting subversion to state power” through his writings and role in Charter 08, an online petition calling for more democracy and greater freedom of expression in China.

Just after Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xia was placed under strict house arrest. She visited him in prison shortly after the announcement and for a while was able to send out messages to supporters via her Twitter account. Then her Internet and phone lines were cut off, and she has not been seen in public since.

In one of her last Twitter messages, on Oct. 10 after visiting the prison, she wrote, “Brothers I have returned.” She added, “Seen Xiaobo, the prison told him the news about his award on the night of the 9th.”

Later in October, she issued a letter that circulated online, calling on a hundred activists, professors and human rights lawyers to go to Oslo in December to accept the peace prize on her husband’s behalf. But most of the people on the list were themselves detained, placed under house arrest or prohibited from leaving China in the weeks leading up to the award ceremony.

The ceremony took place, but the prize and the accompanying cash award were never handed out, since neither Liu Xiaobo nor any of his family members could attend. Instead, Liu Xiaobo’s place on the stage was represented by an empty chair.

China’s crackdown on dissent after the Nobel award has drawn widespread international condemnation, but the house arrest of his wife, Liu Xia, prompted particular criticism because she was never accused of any crime.

In December, after the awards ceremony in Oslo, the detentions and other restrictions placed on most of the Chinese dissidents were eased somewhat, and they were again able to travel abroad. But Liu Xia has remained under house arrest and out of sight.

richburgk@washpost.com

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