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China stops visit to Nobel winner's wife

October 17, 2010

Tini Tran
October 12, 2010

BEIJING Oct 12 - China blocked European officials
from meeting with the wife of the imprisoned
Nobel Peace Prize winner, cut off her phone
communication and kept her under house arrest -
acting on its fury over the award.

As China retaliated, UN human rights experts
called on Beijing to free democracy campaigner
Liu Xiaobo from prison. Liu, a slight,
54-year-old literary critic, is in the second
year of an 11-year prison term after being convicted of inciting subversion.

He was permitted a brief, tearful meeting in
prison with his wife on Sunday and dedicated the
award to the "lost souls" of the 1989 military
crackdown on student demonstrators.

In naming him, the Norwegian-based Nobel
committee honoured Liu's more than two decades of
advocacy of human rights and peaceful democratic
change - from demonstrations for democracy at
Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 to a manifesto
for political reform that he co-authored in 2008
and which led to his latest prison term.

On Tuesday, US officials said they were closely
following the situation of Liu's wife, Liu Xia.
"We remain concerned by multiple reports that Liu
Xia is being confined to her home in Beijing," an
US Embassy spokesman, Richard Buangan, wrote in
response to questions. "Her rights should be
respected, and she should be allowed to move freely without harassment."

The Beijing public security bureau and the
foreign ministry had no immediate comment on why
authorities were apparently restricting her
movements since she has not been charged with
anything. But "soft detention" is a common tactic
used by the Chinese government to intimidate and stifle activists and critics.

Beijing reacted angrily to Friday's announcement
awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, calling
him a criminal and warning Norway's government
that relations would suffer, even though the
Nobel committee is an independent organisation.
On Monday, it abruptly cancelled a meeting that
had been scheduled for Wednesday between visiting
Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and her Chinese counterpart.

European diplomats were prevented from visiting
Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has been living under
house arrest since Friday. Liu Xia has been told
that if she wants to leave her home, she must be
escorted in a police car, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said.

She has reported that her phone communications,
along with her Internet, has been cut off; both
her and her brother's mobile phones have been interfered with, HRIC said.

Simon Sharpe, the first secretary of political
affairs of the EU delegation in China, said he
went to see Liu Xia at her home in Beijing to
personally deliver a letter of congratulations
from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sharpe was accompanied by diplomats from 10 other
countries, including: Australia, Switzerland,
Sweden, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Italy.

But three uniformed guards at the gate of Liu's
apartment complex prevented the group from entering.

"We were told that we could only go in if we
called somebody from the inside and if they came
out to meet us. But of course, we can't call Liu
Xia, because it's impossible to get through to
her phone," Sharpe told reporters at the entrance to the compound.

The Nobel Committee has sent the official prize
documents, including an invitation to the
December 10 ceremony, to the Chinese Embassy in
Oslo, asking Chinese authorities to hand them
over to Liu, said committee secretary Geir Lundestad.

In recent days, Beijing has also stepped up its
harassment of other activists, detaining several
when they tried to organise a dinner to celebrate Liu's Nobel.

Zhang Jiannan, who runs an Internet forum on
political matters, told The Associated Press that
he and other activists had gone out Friday to
celebrate Liu's victory. He was placed under
house arrest Saturday and warned by police not to
participate in political activities.

On Monday, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was the latest to
be detained by police, according to his assistant.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama criticised China for
its response to the Nobel Peace Prize award,
saying the government "must change", the Kyodo
News agency reported. The Tibetan spiritual
leader, who won the prize himself in 1989, said
Beijing must recognise that fostering an open
society is "the only way to save all people of China."
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