Friends of China’s most famous political prisoner, the Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, have issued a plea to Chinese authorities to be allowed one final audience with the dying activist.
The Chinese democracy campaigner, who was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May after more than seven years in prison, appears to be nearing the end of his life. Family friends and doctors said on Thursday the 61-year-old’s condition had worsened and he was close to death.
Liu is reportedly being held under armed police guard at a hospital in north-eastern China, having been granted medical parole, and friends say they have been refused access to the dying activist. Only a small group of relatives, including Liu’s wife, the poet Liu Xia, and his brother-in-law, Liu Hui, are thought to have been allowed to see him.
A spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, separately said it had asked China to let a senior UN official have access to Liu but had so far not received a response.
In an online petition, friends of Liu Xiaobo – who was jailed in 2009 for subversion after helping launch a manifesto urging political change – called on Beijing to give them one last chance to see him, on humanitarian grounds. “We are filled with sorrow [and] realise we don’t have much time left with Liu Xiaobo, who will soon be gone,” it said.
Mo Zhixu, a Chinese writer and activist who is among the signatories, said friends were desperate to see Liu to offer him “comfort and encouragement” in his final days. “Liu is nearing the end ... At this stage, it is also our duty as Liu Xiaobo’s friends to visit him and to talk to him. We must visit him.”
Mo said he had travelled to Shenyang, the city where Liu is being treated, this week in a fruitless attempt to locate him but vowed to keep trying. “Let me put it very simply: we just really want to see Liu Xiaobo,” he said.
Patrick Poon, an Amnesty campaigner who also knows Liu, said Beijing was preventing the dissident’s friends from visiting him to avoid embarrassment over the fact that a man it portrayed as a “convicted criminal” still enjoyed popular support. “If authorities allow his friends to see him, it might encourage more activists who support him to [try to] visit.”
Perry Link, an American scholar who is another friend, said he believed Beijing had prevented Liu from traveling overseas for treatment because it was determined to stop the dissident using his final days to speak out.
“He’s so frank, he’s so honest, and his brain still works and it has been working in prison for seven years now – and we haven’t heard what he thinks,” said Link, who edited a 2011 collection of Liu’s writings called No Enemies, No Hatred.
“I’m sure he would like to speak freely – and I’m sure the government doesn’t want him to speak freely, whether it is in China or outside of China,” said Link, who attended and wrote about the 2010 Nobel ceremony in Oslo at which the jailed recipient of the peace prize was represented by an empty chair.
“I would love to hear him. Gee, even if he could just speak freely for 24 hours that would be great,” Link said. “He would have incisive views about Xi Jinping, I’m sure.”
A statement from the hospital on Friday said it had stopped using a cancer-fighting drugs so as not to overwhelm Liu’s severely weakened liver. His brother-in-law said Liu’s medication had been adjusted with his family’s consent but denied reports it had been withdrawn altogether.
This article originally was published in The Guardian.