x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

China's jailed Nobel winner gets better food, says wife

Democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo's wife says prision authorities are now giving the Nobel Prize winner better food.

A pro-democracy protester  wears a mask of Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
A pro-democracy protester wears a mask of Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

China accused foreign governments on Tuesday of interfering in its political system by praising the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an imprisoned dissident, while his wife said prison authorities had started giving him better food. 

Democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, said that she herself faces restrictions on whom she can meet and must be accompanied by police escort whenever she leaves her home.

She said her husband's brother told her that the prison started providing Liu Xiaobo with better food on Monday, serving him individually prepared food accompanied by rice rather than a portion of food cooked in a large pot for many prisoners, which is usually of poor quality. 

There was no immediate indication that any other prison conditions faced by Liu had improved, however. 

In naming him, the Norwegian-based Nobel committee honored 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.

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. 

That anger continued Tuesday at a regular Foreign Ministry news conference where spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said politicians in some countries were using the peace prize to attack China.

"This is not only disrespect for China's judicial system, but also puts a big question mark on their true intentions," he said. He said that by supporting "the wrong decision of the Nobel committee, the Norwegian government has moved to hurt bilateral relations." China has already abruptly canceled a meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday between visiting Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and her Chinese counterpart.

Ma refused to answer questions on Liu Xia. Chinese authorities allowed the dissident and his wife a brief, tearful meeting in prison Sunday. But Liu Xia said she and many of her friends have been under tight watch in the days since Friday when the award was announced. Guards are posted outside her apartment in Beijing and she's not allowed to receive visits from anyone, other than her two brothers.

"I am not allowed to meet the press or friends. If I have to do any daily chores, like visiting my mother or buying groceries I have to go in their car (police car)," said Liu Xia, who was using a new cell phone brought to her by a brother - after police rendered her old one unusable. 

US officials said on Tuesday 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," a 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 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.


* AP