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China dissident's wife pleads for detained husband

BEIJING (Reuters) - The wife of a prominent Chinese dissident who backed a campaign for democratic change said his detention made a mockery of China’s laws, even as Beijing defended its record before a United Nations panel.

Liu Xia, the wife of dissident Liu Xiaobo, has so far avoided extensive public comment on his detention by state security police since late last year, when he helped to launch the “Charter 08” petition urging an end to one-party rule in China.

But at the end of what she called a lonely Chinese New Year, she told Reuters she felt compelled to speak out about his case -- one critics raised at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva this week to examine China’s human rights record.

Under Chinese law, Liu Xiaobo’s “residential detention” entitles him to a sort of house arrest, where he can meet freely with his family and lawyer. Instead he is held in an undisclosed location near Beijing, with one meeting with his wife on Jan. 1.

“I wish that China would follow its own laws. If you don’t honour laws, what’s the point of having them?” Liu Xia said.

Liu Xiaobo is the only activist to be detained for more than a few days over Charter 08, which Chinese Internet censors have scrubbed all mention of but which has been passed around by e-mail or by hand since its release.

Under Chinese law, he should have been charged or released within six months.

“I had really wished for a meeting over the Lunar New Year, because sometimes that happens. I kept clutching the cell phone, hoping for a call,” said Liu Xia, a frail artist who keeps her head shaved like a nun. Her anxiety forces her to rely on sleeping pills to get rest.

“In a way, having him in a real jail would be better. At least then you have the right to meet and send letters.”

Liu has been one of China’s most prominent dissidents since 1989, when he was heavily involved in pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square that were crushed on June 4 that year. Since his release from jail he has continued to write acerbic criticisms of the ruling Communist Party.

Police have repeatedly questioned people who signed the manifesto and appear to be trying to reconstruct how it was organised. Some signatories have been asked to recant or say that they did not sign it

“Liu Xiaobo is expressing his right to free speech. This is a basic right ... the Communist Party simply shouldn’t be detaining people like this,” said Jiang Qisheng, who also signed Charter 08 and who, with Liu, is active in an independent Chinese writers’ association.

The U.N. Human Rights Council will publish its review of China’s human rights conditions on Wednesday, two days after holding hearings in Geneva.

Chinese officials in Geneva defended their country’s record, stressing China’s achievements over the past 30 years in feeding, clothing, housing and educating 1.3 billion people while raising average life expectancy.

But Jiang said political rights lagged badly.

“Chinese rights need strengthening in many areas. I hope the international community continues to act, continues to criticise, so that everyone can work together to get Chinese rights going in the right direction,” Jiang said. “There is a lot more to do.”