China has invited Western doctors to visit and treat terminally ill dissident Liu Xiaobo, amid growing international outcry over the government’s treatment of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The hospital where Liu is being treated invited top cancer specialists from the United States, Germany and other countries to see the dissident at the request of his family, said a statement released Wednesday by judicial authorities in Shenyang, a city in northeastern China where Liu is hospitalized.
“They will join the medical team composed of renowned Chinese oncologists to treat Liu,” the statement said.
Liu, 61, was granted medical parole and released from jail last month after he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer. He had been serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” in Jinzhou, near Shenyang.
His most recent conviction, on Christmas Day 2009, stemmed from his co-authorship of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform and human rights in China. In 2010, while in prison, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” — prompting an infuriated Beijing to place his wife under house arrest and freeze diplomatic ties with Norway, where the prize winner is chosen.
At a regular press briefing Wednesday, a foreign ministry spokesman acknowledged the statement from Shenyang officials but declined to say if Liu’s case had come up during talks between President Xi Jinping, who is in Germany for a state visit as well as the Group of 20 summit, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We hope other countries will respect China’s judicial sovereignty and not use an individual case to interfere in our internal affairs,” Geng Shuang said.
Liu’s plight has come under an international spotlight amid allegations from his supporters that he had become gravely ill because his cancer wasn’t detected and treated in time in prison — and that China has refused to let him seek treatment overseas for political reasons.
A Chinese vice minister of justice met with diplomats from the US, Germany and the EU last Thursday to brief them about Liu’s case and told the diplomats that Liu was too sick to travel abroad, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Some supporters view the latest development as a positive step — if Beijing makes it happen quickly.
“Xiaobo is out of prison but he and his family are not free at the hospital,” said Hu Jia, a leading Chinese human-rights activist who has known Liu’s wife for years and has served prison terms for his own advocacy.
“Allowing Western experts to visit Xiaobo, reach their independent judgment and convey such information to the outside world would make his treatment more transparent.”
Last week, 154 Nobel laureates across six disciplines signed and sent an open letter to Xi, urging the Chinese government “on humanitarian grounds to grant Liu Xiaobo and (his wife) Liu Xia’s wish to travel to the United States for medical treatment.”
In his first public remarks since arriving in China as the new US ambassador, Terry Branstad told reporters last Wednesday that he hoped the two sides could work together to address Liu’s condition.
“It’s very serious,” he said. “Obviously, our hearts go out to him and his wife and we’re interested in doing what can be done to see if it’s possible. We Americans would like to see him have the opportunity for treatment elsewhere, if that could be of help.”
Liu also become a rallying point for activists in Hong Kong over the weekend, when Xi visited to participate in festivities marking 20 years of Chinese rule in the former British colony.
The Chinese government, which continues to censor domestic news coverage of Liu, has been waging a public-relations offensive in the past few days in the face of strong global reactions to the story.
The Shenyang judicial authorities have been steadily releasing more details on Liu’s condition and treatment, revealing that his wife has been staying with him at the hospital and that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners have been invited into the medical team at the family’s request.
A video posted last Wednesday by Boxun, an overseas Chinese news website known for its access to Chinese government sources, appeared to show Liu working, exercising and meeting visiting family members in prison.
It also shows him receiving medical checkups and treatment in prison and at hospitals.
Liu could be heard describing how prison officials had been taking good care of him, especially his health, and expressing his gratitude to them.
An earlier statement from Shenyang officials also quoted Liu’s family as saying they were “satisfied” with his treatment in prison and at the hospital. It added that Liu had a history of hepatitis B before imprisonment and prison authorities had provided him with an annual physical examination as well as monthly checkup, and no abnormal conditions had been found before the recent diagnosis.
A prolific writer and longtime activist, Liu had been in and out of jail since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.