September 24, 2015 / 12:20 AM / 4 years ago

Nobel winners urge Obama to press Xi for fellow laureate's release

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners have called on President Barack Obama to make a public call for the release of their fellow laureate, Liu Xiaobo, and his wife Liu Xia during a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Placards of China's jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia are displayed by Chinese dissidents Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

The laureates, led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote to Obama, who is also a recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, on Sept. 2 to urge him to press the issue with Xi, the U.S. advocacy group Freedom Now said. Obama and Xi will meet in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

“All attempts to resolve their detentions through private diplomacy have failed,” the laureates said in their letter, released by Freedom Now.

“We believe that unless leaders like you take urgent action, both publicly and privately, that China will continue to believe it can act with impunity and without consequence for its behavior.”

The laureates said Liu Xia’s health had declined “precipitously” in the past year and she should be allowed to travel abroad for medical care as she had requested.

Freedom Now founder Jared Genser, who acts as the pro-bono counsel for Liu Xiaobo and his wife said in a note accompanying the letter that no one in the White House had ever called publicly for Liu Xia’s release from house arrest, or even mentioned her name.

“This is particularly worrying because the Chinese government continues both publicly and privately to insist she isn’t under house arrest at all,” he said.

Liu Xiaobo, 59, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the army, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule.

He won the Nobel Prize in 2010.

Last month, 10 U.S. senators called on Obama to use his summit with Xi to take him to task for what they called an “extraordinary assault” on human rights and to call for the release of Liu Xiaobo and other dissidents.

Washington said last month that Beijing needed to improve its rights record to ensure a successful summit, but activists have accused the Obama administration of subordinating its concern about dissidents to economic ties with Beijing.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Chinese activists and relatives of detained dissidents to discuss “the troubling deterioration of the human rights situation in China,” the State Department said.

Kerry and Blinken expressed the Obama administration’s “growing concern” about rights in China and pledged to continue pressing for the release of political prisoners and legal reforms, including during Xi’s visit.

The wife of one dissident posted a letter from her husband on Twitter to explain that he had asked her not to attend the meeting at the State Department.

The dissident, Gao Zhisheng, said in the letter to his wife Geng He (Twitter: @genghe1) that they should not take part in such meetings at a time when the “Communist thieves and U.S. politicians are rubbing shoulders and fawning over each other.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it maintained human rights and abided by its own laws and called for respect for that.

“China upholds human rights but also upholds rule of law,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “We hope the relevant country will respect China’s rule of law and judicial sovereignty.”

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; addtional reportng by Michael Martina and Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Ken Wills, Eric Walsh and Richard Chang

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