Liu Xia trembled uncontrollably and cried Thursday as she described how her confinement under house arrest has been absurd and emotionally draining in the two years since her jailed activist husband, Liu Xiaobo, was named a Nobel Peace laureate in 2010.
Breathless from disbelief at receiving unexpected visitors into her home and with a shaking voice, Liu spoke in her first interview in 26 months — a brief conversation with journalists from The Associated Press who managed to visit her apartment while the guards who watch it apparently stepped out for lunch.
Liu said her continuing house arrest has been painfully surreal and in stark contrast to Beijing’s celebratory response to this year’s Chinese victory among the Nobels — literature prize winner Mo Yan. Liu said she has been confined to her duplex apartment in downtown Beijing with no Internet or outside phone line and is only allowed weekly trips to buy groceries and visit her parents.
“We live in such an absurd place,” she said. “It is so absurd. I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this.”
Once a month, she is taken to see her husband in prison. It wasn’t clear when Liu Xia started regular visits with her husband or if they would continue following her interview. She was denied visits for more than a year after she saw him two days after his Nobel win and emerged to tell the world that he had dedicated the award to those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Liu Xiaobo is four years into an 11-year prison term on subversion charges for authoring and disseminating a programmatic call for democracy, Charter ‘08. The Nobel committee cited that proposal and his two decades of non-violent struggle for civil rights in awarding him the peace prize.
Beijing condemned Liu’s receipt of the 2010 award, saying that it tarnished the group’s reputation to bestow it on a jailed criminal. That fury was replaced with jubilation and pride this year, after the announcement that Mo — who has been embraced by China’s communist government —had been named winner of the Nobel Literature prize.
The authoritarian government’s detention of the Liu couple, one in a prison 450 km northeast of Beijing and the other in a fifth floor apartment, underscores its determination to keep the 57-year-old peace laureate from becoming an inspiration to other Chinese, either by himself or through her.
Her treatment has been called by rights groups the most severe retaliation by a government given to a Nobel winner’s family.
Though she is forbidden to discuss the specifics of her situation with her husband, Liu says he knows that she is also under detention.
“He understands more or less,” she said. “I told him: ‘I am going through what you are going through almost.”