The deprivations of a jail sentence are not limited to the prisoner. Families also pay the price, emotionally and materially, especially for the sins of the father, if he is the breadwinner. Sadly, society can turn the screw with prejudice and discrimination. But extrajudicial retribution directed at the spouse of a prisoner takes it to another level that makes a villain of the state, too.
A case in point is Liu Xia, wife of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo . He is essentially a political prisoner, having served three years of an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion over his co-authorship of Charter 08, which calls on Beijing to introduce democratic reforms.
His wife's ordeal of virtual house arrest began when, to China's fury, he was awarded the 2010 Nobel peace prize, and she announced he had dedicated it from jail to victims of the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
China made an example of Liu Xiaobo, singling him out from many other intellectuals who signed the charter. Officially, he may be a convicted criminal. But Beijing demeaned itself in the eyes of the world by unsuccessfully trying to organise an international boycott of the 2010 peace prize ceremony in Oslo. And it sunk even further with the persecution of his wife, which she rightly, and bravely, described as absurd in a rare interview last week. Surely, as a modern, confident and powerful nation, China must be able to find room for dissent and debate, no matter how convinced of the correctness of its position?
By contrast, the warm reception for the Nobel prize for literature awarded this year to Mo Yan is jingoistic. Mo has declined to join 134 Nobel laureates in calling on Beijing to release Liu, although he said when his award was announced in October that he hoped Liu would be freed as soon as possible. A number of dissidents and other writers have questioned his worthiness because he has shied away from commenting on Liu's plight. But they can rest assured that when Mo accepts his award on Monday night, Liu will be the elephant in the room.