May 16, 2018 / 1:11 PM / a year ago

Writers urge China to end house arrest of Liu Xia, wife of Nobel laureate

BEIJING (Reuters) - More than two dozen writers, poets and artists on Wednesday called for the release of Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo, who has been under house arrest in China since her husband died in custody last year.

FILE PHOTO: A police officer stands guard next to a chair prop, alluding to an empty chair at late Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony in 2010, with an image of his wife Liu Xia, during a protest to urge for the release of Liu Xia, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, China December 25, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

Concern is growing among Western diplomats and friends of Liu Xia over delayed talks to arrange for Liu to leave China for another country, a wish she has repeatedly made clear.

Figures such as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee, poet Rita Dove and novelists Paul Auster, Khaled Hosseini and Ma Jian recorded videos of themselves reading excerpts from Liu Xia’s poems in a campaign organized by PEN America and Amnesty International.

“Liu Xia’s cry for freedom resonates around the world and rebukes the Chinese government’s hollow claim that she is free,” Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, said in a statement.

China’s foreign ministry, asked to comment, said Liu was a Chinese citizen and her rights were being protected according to the law. The public security ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

Liu, an artist and poet who suffers from depression, has been under effective house arrest since her husband, who was jailed by Chinese authorities in 2009 for inciting subversion, won the Nobel prize in 2010.

China has said Liu Xia is free, but Western diplomats say she is closely guarded at her home and can only speak with friends and family through arranged visits and phone calls.

Western diplomats in Beijing last Friday took the rare step of attempting to visit Liu Xia in her home but were turned away by security personnel, an official of one of the embassies involved told Reuters, but declined to be named.

China’s government has repeatedly said Liu Xia has all the freedoms granted to her as a Chinese citizen under the law, and her case is an internal affair.

The PEN campaign adds to the chorus of calls from Western governments, rights groups, and friends and supporters demanding “true freedom” for Liu Xia.

In early May, Liao Yiwu, a writer and friend of Liu’s who lives in Germany, said she had told him by telephone that she was prepared to die in China. He also released a recording of Liu crying uncontrollably during another phone call.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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