Chinese authorities on Thursday told U.S., German and European Union diplomats that Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo cannot be moved to get medical treatment elsewhere due to his illness, a source briefed on the meeting told Reuters. Liu, 61, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after he helped write a petition known as “Charter 08” calling for sweeping political reforms. He was being treated in a hospital in the city of Shenyang for late-stage liver cancer after being granted medical parole, his lawyer told Reuters on Monday.
A deputy head of the justice ministry told the diplomats that Liu’s family was happy with the treatment he was receiving and had agreed that he should not be moved, said the source, who declined to be identified. The official did not elaborate. The diplomats asked that Liu and his wife be allowed to communicate directly with the outside world, choose their own hospital and get treatment from a foreign doctor. The Chinese side said that may not be possible, according to the source.
On Thursday, U.S.-based rights lawyer and activist Jared Genser said 154 Nobel laureates had called for Liu to be allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. Genser, who has acted as a lawyer for Liu in the past, said in a statement that the laureates made their request in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad. “We urge the Chinese government on humanitarian grounds to grant Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia’s wish to travel to the United States for medical treatment,” Sir Richard Roberts, 1993 laureate in Physiology or Medicine, wrote in the letter on behalf of the laureates.
The U.S. State Department said it was gathering details about Liu’s condition. Washington called on Beijing to grant Liu full parole, release his wife from house arrest and allow them access to the medical care of their choosing, a spokeswoman, Anna Richey-Allen said, reiterating a previous statement. On Wednesday, Branstad said the United States would like to see Liu treated elsewhere, if that would help him. Liu Xia has been under effective house arrest since her husband won the peace prize in 2010 and was not available for comment on Thursday.
Amnesty International told Reuters on Tuesday she had told Chinese authorities she wanted her husband to get treatment abroad. Western politicians and rights activists have voiced concern about the quality of Liu Xiaobo’s treatment and have said he should be given the option of leaving China if that was the best option.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Thursday declined to comment on any briefing from the authorities. There was no immediate comment from EU officials. A German foreign ministry source also declined to comment on the meeting but said Liu should receive the medical treatment that he needs and wants. Another source familiar with the case said no final decision had been made on the matter. China’s foreign ministry and justice ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
A video of Liu being treated in jail was released on YouTube, which is blocked in China, late on Wednesday, in what a source close to Liu said was a move by authorities to counter growing concern over his care behind bars. Liu is shown in the three-minute video playing badminton outside, being given a physical examination by prison guards and getting treatment from doctors, as well as being visited by his wife. It was not clear who took the video or published it on YouTube but another source, who is close to Liu and his wife, described it as “propaganda”, and an attempt by the authorities to respond to criticism of Liu’s treatment.
The Shenyang legal bureau said in a statement on its website on Wednesday that signs Liu was unwell had been detected on May 31 and he was immediately sent to the hospital where he was now being treated by eight well-known domestic cancer experts. It said the cancer had spread to other parts of his body.
Several family members are with Liu in Shenyang, including his wife, and they had “expressed satisfaction” with his treatment, and had asked he be treated with traditional Chinese medicine, which was now happening, the legal bureau said. Liu had a history of hepatitis B before entering jail, it said, citing prison records, and said he had regular medical checks in prison, which had not previously found signs of hepatitis or tumours.
The state-run Global Times said in an editorial Liu had no right to expect special treatment. “Liu is an ordinary prisoner. He ought to be grateful for extra help from the prison authorities, but he and his supporters have no right to demand preferential treatment,” it said. The source close to Liu’s family told Reuters that his wife had weeks ago accepted an offer to move to Germany if she and Liu were released, but that was before the diagnosis of liver cancer was made public. Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of the Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council, the island’s China affairs policy-maker, said Taiwan was willing to host Liu.
A Hong Kong reporter shouted a question at Chinese President Xi Jinping after he gave a short speech upon arrival at Hong Kong airport, asking if Liu would be released or receive treatment abroad. Xi did not answer.