Jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo marked his 55th birthday on Tuesday in a prison in northeast China, prompting renewed calls from rights groups for his immediate release.
Liu, a writer and one-time professor, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day last year on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a bold petition calling for political reform in one-party Communist-ruled China.
He was named the peace prize winner in October, sparking fury in Beijing, which equated the Oslo-based Nobel committee’s decision with encouraging crime. A ceremony in Liu’s honour was held in the Norwegian capital on December 10.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), an activist network based in Hong Kong, said it wanted to “take this opportunity to wish Liu Xiaobo a happy birthday and to once again call for his immediate and unconditional release”.
The group recalled in a statement that Liu was spending his birthday at the remote Jinzhou prison in the northeastern province of Liaoning for the first time but had not been free to celebrate in the past two years.
In 2009, he was in a Beijing detention centre following his sentencing, and in 2008, he was under police surveillance outside the Chinese capital.
Rights groups have said that family visits to Liu at the prison have been suspended, despite the fact that a monthly visit is guaranteed under Chinese law.
Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy programme director, said both Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest in Beijing, should be freed.
“As the new year approaches, we would reiterate our call for his release and the release of his wife,” Baber told AFP.
“His continued imprisonment calls into question the Chinese government’s commitment to upholding international human rights standards and continuing legal reform.”
When asked for a response to calls for Liu’s release, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters: “China is a country under the rule of law. Competent authorities will work according to law.
“I believe Chinese judicial authorities will safeguard Chinese judicial sovereignty,” Jiang said.
US President Barack Obama, last year’s Nobel peace laureate, has led international calls for the release of Liu, who who was previously jailed for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests.
AFP’s attempts to reach Liu Xia by telephone on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
CHRD said Liu Xia’s phone and Internet connections remained blocked and called for all restrictions on her freedom to be lifted.
“There is absolutely no legal basis for any of the measures taken against her by Beijing officials,” the group said.
“CHRD is concerned that Liu Xia may continue to face illegal house arrest for an extended period of time, and we reiterate our call for an immediate end to her persecution.”
Liu’s lawyer Shang Baojun told AFP that he too was unable to reach Liu Xia.
“I can’t get hold of her. I contacted her family last week. She’s still in her house in Beijing — she’s well, but there’s no new news,” Shang told AFP by telephone.
Amnesty’s Baber noted: “Liu Xia is being punished for nothing more than being his wife.”
Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said China’s treatment of Liu as a “dangerous criminal” was a “stain” on its international reputation.
“We hope that Liu Xiaobo can next year celebrate his 56th birthday in freedom and with his family,” the group said in a statement to AFP.