The good news for Chinese human rights activists this week is that Liu Xia, widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, was finally released after eight years of completely unjustified house arrest and allowed to leave China. The bad news is that China is still controlling her by keeping her brother as a hostage.
Liu Xiaobo died of complications from liver cancer at the age of 61 in July 2017. China’s treatment of the great democracy advocate was appalling every step of the way, from keeping him under guard like a dangerous criminal to denying him treatment that might have saved his life.
His wife Liu Xia, now 57 years old, has been under house arrest and forbidden to leave the country ever since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. She was finally released this week and allowed to travel to Germany.
Liu Xia is not politically active herself and was never accused of any crime, not even the vague charges of “subversion” China routinely employs to lock up critics like Liu Xiaobo. They just did it again on Wednesday, handing a 13-year sentence for “subversion of state power” to human rights activist Qin Yongmin, who has already spent 22 of his 64 years in jail. One of his “crimes,” according to prosecutors, was encouraging Chinese youth to fight for their rights under treaties China signed with the United Nations.
“They should add a line to the constitution: ‘Loving Liu Xiaobo is a serious crime – it’s a life sentence,’” she recently said of her long detention.
Friends worried that she was depressed, physically ill, and reliant on medication to sleep. She was finally allowed to visit Germany for medical treatment, possibly due to an agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang – which may, in turn, have been part of China’s effort to work out trade deals with Germany and organize European opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump.
On the day of her release, Patrick Poon of Amnesty International said it was “worrying that her brother, Liu Hui, is still kept in China,” because she “might not be able to speak much for fear of her brother’s safety.”
Those fears seem to have been realized as Liu Xia made it known on Friday that she will not attend a memorial for Liu Xiaobo in Berlin on Friday, the one-year anniversary of his death.
Family friend Tienchi Martin-Liao, who edited Liu Xiaobo’s writings for publication in Europe, said Liu Xia must remain silent and avoid the event for “reasons that have nothing to with her health.”
“She wants to join, but she cannot,” Martin-Liao said on Friday.
There are concerns about Liu Xia’s health, which might have deteriorated because of the pills her doctors in China were giving her. Dissident writer Liao Yiwu, a longtime friend, said on Thursday that German doctors have advised her to stop taking the drugs she was prescribed in China.
“The Chinese Communist Party continues to hold the families of political exiles and immigrants hostage, securing their silence with the implied – or direct – promise of harm,” China correspondent Emily Rauhala wrote at the Washington Post on Friday, citing numerous examples of China’sauthoritariann government using such tactics to keep troublesome people like the Uighurs in line.
Rauhala notes that Liu Xia’s brother was dubiously convicted of fraud in 2013, hit with an extraordinarily severe 11-year sentence, and released on medical parole – “a decision that can no doubt be reversed” if his sister says something Beijing doesn’t like.