A United Nations panel has called for the release of jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife, saying their detention breaks international law.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticised Liu's pre-trial detention, saying he was held "incommunicado" and denied access to a lawyer before being sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 on charges of subversion.
The writer, now 55, had co-authored Charter 08, a manifesto that quickly spread on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in Communist-ruled China.
The UN panel, an independent body made up of human rights experts from five countries, urged Beijing to "take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which include the immediate release and adequate reparation to Mr Liu Xiaobo".
"The government has not shown in this case a justification for the interference with Mr Liu Xiaobo's political free speech," it said in a written opinion dated May 5 and released on Monday by legal rights group Freedom Now.
The paper said China was "in violation of its international human rights obligations", noting that Liu, 55, had just 14 minutes to defend himself at his two-hour trial.
The panel also criticised the house arrest of Liu's wife, Liu Xia, saying she "has the right to be brought promptly before a judge, and the right to legal counsel". She was placed under house arrest after Liu was jailed.
Washington backed the group's findings, with Mark Toner, the deputy State Department spokesman, urging China to "uphold its international human rights obligations".
"We join... with the UN working group, and once again call for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo, as well as his wife, from detention, with full restoration of their rights," he said in a statement.
Freedom Now founder Jared Genser called the UN decision a "critical affirmation" that the couple's detention is a "flagrant violation" of international law.
The organisation called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to join the call for their release.
The decision to award Liu with the prestigious prize last year sparked fury in Beijing, which equated the Oslo-based Nobel committee's decision with encouraging crime.
China, which faced global criticism over the case, responded by cancelling political dialogue with Norway and suspending talks on a free trade pact.