Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, reacts emotionally… (Ng Han Guan/AP )
BEIJING — After more than two years of house arrest and government-imposed silence, the wife of China’s imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo spoke Thursday to reporters who had sneaked in to see her during an apparent lunch break by the guards watching her apartment.
In her first interview since 2010, Liu Xia described her husband’s imprisonment and her house arrest to journalists from the Associated Press as Kafkaesque.
“I really never imagined that after he won I would not be able to leave my home,” she said, describing her new life as restricted to an apartment with no Internet, phone or trips outside, except to buy groceries and visit her parents. “This is too absurd,” she said.
Her comments came days ahead of the two-year anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, at which his absence was symbolized by an empty chair, and as the Chinese government celebrates the country’s only other native Nobel laureate living here, fiction writer Mo Yan, who departed for Stockholm this week to receive the award.
The timing highlights the stark difference in the government’s approach to the two men — condemning Liu’s award as an insulting and grossly unjust political act by Norway while praising Mo’s award as well-deserved recognition of China’s “time-honored history and . . . splendid culture.”
Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence for “subversion of state power” after helping to write and circulate a call for democratic and human rights reforms called Charter ’08.
A petition started by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and signed by 134 of Tutu’s fellow Nobel laureates was released this week.
Although much of the attention has focused on the plight of Liu Xia’s husband, human rights groups say her house arrest is, in some ways, an even more flagrant legal abuse. She was placed under house arrest without facing any charges or being convicted of a crime. There is no legal provision for such arrests under Chinese law.
Her imprisonment, activist groups say, contradicts official commitments to strengthen the rule of law in China.
In his most recent comments on the subject, China’s new top leader, Xi Jinping, acknowledged this week that some officials abuse their power, and he vowed to fight for the rule of law. “We must firmly establish throughout society the authority of the constitution and the law and allow the overwhelming masses to fully believe in the law,” Xi said.
In a phone interview Thursday, Liu Xiaobo’s attorney, Mo Shaoping, said: “It’s good that Xi Jinping addressed the constitution, but it’s not important about what he said. More important is what he will do. If the new leaders really want to improve the judiciary system, they should free Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia.”
Mo said he held out hope for some movement on the couple’s situation. “Liu Xiaobo is the best chess piece in their hand if they want to improve their international image,” he said.
According to the Associated Press report, Liu Xia appeared frail and was visibly surprised when several reporters from the news agency were able to enter her apartment. She said that she last saw her husband a few weeks ago and that although she is forbidden to tell him about her house arrest, he knows she is being detained.
“I told him, ‘I am going through what you are going through, almost,’ ” according to the AP report.
Reached by phone, Liu Xiaobo’s younger brother expressed surprise that reporters had been able to reach Liu’s wife. The brother, Liu Xiaoxuan, who lives in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, said that, like most others, he had lost any way of reaching Liu Xia directly for months. “I can only pass word to her via her mother,” he said.
The brother said he was able to visit Liu Xiaobo in prison in September but declined to elaborate because of concern that more comments to the foreign news media could worsen his family’s situation.
Zhang Jie contributed to this report.