Dozens of writers and artists have called on Chinese president Xi Jinping to end all restrictions and surveillance imposed on Liu Xia, widow of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo.
“We ask you to remove all remaining restrictions on Liu Xia, including over her freedom of movement, and to permit her to meet and speak freely with others including her family, friends, and members of the media,” some 50 writers, artists and supporters of PEN America said in an open letter to Xi ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to China on Nov. 8.
“The only apparent reason for her long detention is her connection to Liu Xiaobo,” said the letter, which was signed by well-known authors, including Chimamanda Achibie, Margaret Atwood, and Khaled Hosseini.
“As a result of her years of enforced solitude, Liu Xia is reported to be in poor physical and mental health, including a diagnosis of depression and a heart condition,” said the letter, which also bore the signatures of composer Stephen Sondheim, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, and satirist Jules Feiffer.
Liu Xia was last seen in photographs on July 15 at the sea burial of her husband’s ashes, but has been incommunicado since then, with a security guard hanging around her Beijing home.
The letter dismissed claims that Liu Xia is free to do as she pleases.
“The circumstances make it clear that she remains in a state of de facto incommunicado detention, cut off from the outside world and barred from making her own free decisions regarding whom to speak with and where to travel,” it said.
“Liu Xia has undergone great suffering for many years, simply for being the wife of a man that China has deemed to be a dissident,” it said. “She has committed no crime, and she has not been charged with any crime.”
“She should be free to meet freely with family, friends, and members of the international community, free to travel where she wishes, and free to be reunited with the outside world,” the letter said.
PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel also called on Trump to voice concern over the plight of Liu Xia when he meets with Chinese leaders in Beijing.
“On his upcoming visit to Beijing, we hope President Trump will voice the United States’ concern about the inhumane and unjustifiable detention of a poet who has been accused of no crime,” Nossel said in a statement.
“Liu Xia lost her husband when he contracted cancer in prison and faced limited treatment opportunities,” she said. “Her continued torment is a singularly cruel manifestation of China’s determination to suppress not only dissenters, but someone whose only crime was to love one.”
However, the Trump administration has been taking a more muted approach than the administration of President Obama to such concerns, Reuters reported, citing current and former U.S. officials, rights activists and diplomats.
Scant signs of a letup
There are scant signs, too, that there will be any letup in a comprehensive crackdown on peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party that has been the order of the day under the Xi administration.
Earlier this week, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong sentenced netizen Wang Jiangfeng to one year and 10 months’ in prison after finding him guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
Wang was accused of referring to the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as “Steamed Bun Xi” in a group message to the social media platforms WeChat and QQ.
The phrase has been banned on China’s tightly controlled internet since the president ordered the buns during a visit to a Beijing restaurant in December 2013, prompting petitioners to gather outside toting a placard that read “President Xi, I’d like to eat steamed buns too” in a bid to get their grievances against the government heard.
The incident sparked an online meme in which Xi was referred to jokingly as Steamed Bun Xi, in a pun on the name of a legendary Song dynasty official who fought corruption. Censors later banned the meme, deleting social media posts that contained references to it.
Wang’s lawyer Li Yongheng said his client would appeal.
“Wang Jiangfeng made it very clear in court that he plans to appeal,” Li said.
Wang’s wife Li Wenjuan said she had begun to nurture false hopes when a retrial was ordered earlier this year.
“I thought that if there was a retrial, that they would find him not guilty and release him,” she said. “But then they dragged it out until Sept. 29, and I began to have doubts.”
Trump embarked on an 11-day trip to Asia on Friday that will take in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Talks with his Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese counterparts will likely be dominated by North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Trump’s visit will be the longest to Asia by a U.S. president since President George Bush’s visit in 1991-1992.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.