China: Release Liu Xiaobo and allow him to travel overseas to get medical treatment

By China Coordination Group, Amnesty USA

On June 26th 2017, we received news that Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, who has been in prison for nine years for writing about corruption, censorship and one-party rule in China, has late-stage liver cancer. He has been released from prison on medical parole in order to receive treatment in a hospital, but his lawyer has indicated that the cancer has spread and is likely terminal. It is heart-breaking that Liu was first unjustly imprisoned and then not given adequate medical care that could have diagnosed his condition before it had reached this stage.

Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia remains under house arrest in Beijing. Reporters have not been aable to speak with her, but in a distressing cell phone video, made by activist Su Yutong, she is seen weeping and stating that Xiaobo’s cancer is untreatable. While in detention, Liu Xia has suffered a heart attack and has had a number of psychological problems due to her isolation and anxiety.

China must immediately and unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and allow him to seek medical care outside China, as he has requested. Liu Xia should also be released from house arrest at once and be allowed to see her husband, family, friends and lawyers, without any government oversight or harassment.

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has carried out a crackdown on activists and human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers. New national security laws further threaten the Chinese people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Human rights defenders are systematically subjected to monitoring, harassment, intimidation, arrest and detention, often outside of formal detention facilities. Here are some examples.

Ilham Tohti, an economics professor at Minzu University of China in Beijing, was sentenced to life imprisonment for “separatism ” but Amnesty International believes that he, like Liu Xiaobo, is in prison for writings posted on the Internet. In a blog he addressed social and political issues affecting the ethnic minority to which he belongs, the Uighur people. His lawyers reported that he lost at least 16 kg in 2014 after beginning a hunger strike to protest not being provided with food compatible with his Islamic dietary requirements and because he was denied food by prison staff. He suffers from other medical conditions and in the past was not allowed a medical examination or treatment according to his lawyers.

Women’s rights activist, Su Changlan was sentenced in March 2017 to three years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power. The doctor in the denterion center diagnosed Su with cardiac arrhythmia and said she should be transferred to a hospital for treatment. However, the prison administration told her there were no beds available, and she remained in prison. We have just received word that her health has worsened.

Many human rights lawyers have been detained, arrested and harassed by government authorities in the last several years. One of them, Jiang Tianyong, was just recently formally arrested for “subverting state power” after being detained in an unofficial detention facility for over six months. This type of detention, in which prisoners are held incommunicado and without access to a lawyer, puts Jiang at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

All of these cases highlight the many challenges that activists and human rights defenders are facing in China today. President Xi Jinping’s five years in office have been marked by a growing lack of tolerance of dissent from government positions, which has resulted in an increase in harassment and prosecution of those who dare to speak out. China must reverse its course and respect international human rights standards and the human rights defenders who uphold them. Let them start by allowing Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia their full measure of freedom.

The US, too, must use its influence to curtail human rights abuses in China and to support human rights defenders there. US Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, should seek to visit Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia to ascertain their situation and offer them the support of the US. President Trump must take advantage of his “great chemistry” with President Xi to press for Liu Xiaobo’s full release. He must demand that President Xi allow Liu Xiaobo to access the best available medical care in a country of Liu Xiabo’s choosing and ask for Liu Xia’s release from house arrest.

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