Rare video showing what life is like under house arrest for Liu Xia, the Chinese artist and poet married to jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, was screened for the first time on Tuesday in New York City to an audience of Chinese and American writers and activists who have pushed for her release.
Organisers said the two video clips of Liu Xia reciting two poems into a camera held by an unknown person at her apartment in Beijing were shot last month. Liu, wearing a sweatshirt and with her head shaved, gives a thumbs-up sign after reading the second poem.
Watch the video:
Liu Xia has been under house arrest for the past three years. In 2009, her husband, Liu Xiaobo, was convicted of subversion and sentenced to 11 years in prison for his activism after he wrote and disseminated the Charter ‘08 document calling for democracy. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, a move the Chinese government denounced and saw as an embarrassment.
Since then, authorities have kept Liu Xia isolated to prevent her from becoming, on her husband’s behalf, a rallying point for Chinese people seeking democratic change.
Liu’s younger brother was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment for fraud. Liu Xia has decried the conviction and sentencing as a vendetta against the whole family.
Liu has been confined to her apartment and hasn’t been allowed to interact with most of the outside world, except for supervised errands and monthly visits with her husband and brother, according to Bei Ling, president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. Bei said the visits have become more restrictive, including her being forced to communicate through plastic dividers.
“She’s very depressed,” Bei said.
The video clips were shown before organisers aired a short documentary called The Wife Outside the Barred Window about the saga of her detention. The documentary includes footage of advocates sneaking into her Beijing apartment past security guards to give her a hug and exchange a couple of private words before being escorted out.
Newly translated poetry by Liu Xia, a founding member of Independent Chinese PEN Centre, was also read in both English and Chinese at Tuesday night’s event. The readings at one point got emotional as one of the readers broke into tears while reading a 2009 poem written by Liu Xia for her husband.
In December, her supporters said Liu was suffering from depression and that she demanded a normal life, where she could see a doctor independently, read her husband’s letters and have a job.
“This just makes me want to ask Chinese authorities: will you only be happy if you drive Liu Xia crazy, or drive her to death,” her close friend, Xu Youyu, said last month.