Her eyes showing anguish behind her glasses, Liu Xia whispers urgently into the ear of one of the Chinese activists who barrels past the guard at her Beijing apartment – a place that has become her prison.
The brief video of their Friday encounter, which spread online Monday, did not capture her words. But fear appears written on her face. In her whisper, Liu expressed concern that she and her family would suffer for the activists’ audacious move, Chinese dissident Hu Jia told reporters days after the rare visit.
Yet Hu and other activists believe that such visits are the key to Liu's freedom. She has been under house arrest since her dissident husband, Liu Xiaobo, was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize more than two years ago. Human rights groups have decried his 11-year prison sentence for subversion, which was imposed after he penned a call for democracy, and they call his wife's confinement “completely illegal.”
“Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years, solely for what he had written.... These are not crimes. Liu Xia has never been charged with anything, and yet she too is treated like a criminal,” said Marian Botsford Fraser of the freedom-of-expression group PEN International.
Activists are pressing for more people to visit Liu Xia to increase the pressure on the government over her case. Rights activists in China and abroad have used Twitter to provide a detailed map to her apartment, which was created and published by the Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao.
The plight of Liu Xia and her husband echoes that of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and his family, who were imprisoned in their home after Chen exposed forced abortions in Shandong province.
Chen ultimately escaped and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing before leaving China for the U.S. with his wife and children. Before his dramatic exit, scores of visitors tried to visit Chen in captivity, including actor Christian Bale, whose scuffle with plainclothes police was caught on video.
Some have tried to reach Liu Xia: In October, Reporters Without Borders released a short video of her, seen smoking in silhouette at her window, and said the difficulty in obtaining even that was “indicative of the isolation imposed on her and the danger to which anyone trying to approach her home is exposed.” In December, reporters from the Associated Press succeeded in reaching her while guards were away, and recorded her first interview in years.
“I really never imagined that after he won [the Nobel Peace Prize], 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," a tearful and trembling Liu told the reporters.