AP Exclusive: Detained China Nobel wife speaks out
Dec 6, 4:47 AM (ET)
By ISOLDA MORILLO and ALEXA OLESEN
BEIJING (AP) - Liu Xia trembled uncontrollably and cried Thursday as she described how her confinement under house arrest has been absurd and emotionally draining in the two years since her jailed activist husband, Liu Xiaobo, was named a Nobel Peace laureate in 2010.
Breathless from disbelief at receiving unexpected visitors into her home and with a shaking voice, Liu spoke in her first interview in 26 months - a brief conversation with journalists from The Associated Press who managed to visit her apartment while the guards who watch it apparently stepped away for lunch.
Liu said her continuing house arrest has been painfully surreal and in stark contrast to China's celebratory response to this year's Chinese victory among the Nobels - literature prize winner Mo Yan. Liu said she has been confined to her duplex apartment in downtown Beijing with no Internet or outside phone line and is only allowed weekly trips to buy groceries and visit her parents.
"We live in such an absurd place," she said. "It is so absurd. I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this."
Liu Xiaobo is four years into an 11-year prison term for subversion for authoring and disseminating a programmatic call for democracy, Charter '08. The Nobel committee cited that proposal and his two decades of non-violent struggle for civil rights in awarding him the peace prize.
Beijing condemned the 2010 award to Liu, saying that it tarnished the committee's reputation to bestow it on a jailed criminal. That fury was replaced with jubilation and pride this year, after the announcement that Mo - who has been embraced by China's communist government _had been named winner of the Nobel Literature prize.
The authoritarian government's detention of the Liu couple, one in a prison 280 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of Beijing and the other in a fifth floor apartment, underscores its determination to keep the 57-year-old peace laureate from becoming an inspiration to other Chinese, either by himself or through her.
Her treatment has been called by rights groups the most severe retaliation by a government given to a Nobel winner's family.
"He understands more or less," she said. "I told him: 'I am going through what you are going through almost.'"
Dressed in a track suit and slippers, Liu was visibly shaken to find several Associated Press journalists at her door. Her first reaction was to put her hands to her head and ask several times, "How did you manage to come up, how did you manage?"
Around midday, the guards who keep a 24-hour watch on the main entrance of Liu's building had left their station - a cot with blankets where they sit and sleep.
Liu appeared frail and explained that she has a back injury that frequently keeps her confined to bed. Her hair was shaved close to her head, a severe look that she has worn since before her husband was jailed in 2009.
"I can't remember," she said. "I don't keep track of the days anymore. That's how it is."
Two years ago this coming Monday, the Nobel committee held Liu Xiaobo's award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, with an empty chair on stage to mark his absence. The Chinese government kept Liu Xia and other activists from attending and pressured foreign diplomats to stay away. For a time, the empty chair became a symbol of support for Liu on the Internet.
During a rare phone interview with the AP a few days after the award was announced, Liu Xia sounded hopeful her confinement would be brief: "I'm sure that for a moment the pressure will be greater, I will have even less freedom, even more inconvenience, but I believe they won't go on like this forever and that there will be positive change in the future."
But little has changed, for her or her husband. The Foreign Ministry this week reiterated its position that Liu Xiaobo is a convicted criminal and that giving him the peace prize represented "external interference in China's judicial sovereignty and domestic affairs."
A prolific writer of raw and magical fiction centered on rural Chinese life, Mo's stories are often savagely critical of officials but he has faced criticism for not being a more outspoken defendant of freedom of speech and for being a member of the Communist Party-backed writers' association.
When asked about Liu at a meeting with reporters after being named literature prize winner in October, Mo said he hoped for his early release, but did not push the issue.
Other Nobel laureates have been more outspoken. An appeal this week by 134 Nobel laureates, from peace prize winners like South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Taiwanese-American chemist Yuan T. Lee, called the Lius' detention a violation of international law and urged their immediate release.
"This flagrant violation of the basic right to due process and free expression must be publicly and forcefully confronted by the international community," said the laureates' appeal.
Until Thursday's unexpected interview, the last images of Liu were released in October by the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, which didn't say how it obtained them. The grainy video showed a lone woman smoking by her apartment window at night.
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