Chinese Nobel winner’s wife tells of his arrest

Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been held under house arrest for more than two years in Beijing, China.
Ng Han Guan/AP Photo
Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been held under house arrest for more than two years in Beijing, China.

BEIJING — Stunned that reporters were able to visit her, Liu Xia trembled uncontrollably and cried Thursday as she described how absurd and emotionally draining her confinement under house arrest has been in the two years since her jailed activist husband, Liu Xiaobo, was named a Nobel Peace laureate.

In her first interview in 26 months, Liu Xia spoke briefly with journalists from Associated Press who managed to visit her apartment while the guards who watch it apparently went lunch. Her voice shook and she was breathless at receiving unexpected visitors.

Liu said her continuing house arrest has been 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 apartment in downtown Beijing with no Internet or outside phone line and is allowed weekly trips for groceries and to 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.’’

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Once a month, she is taken to see her husband in prison. It was not 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 for subversion for writing and disseminating a programmatic call for democracy, Charter ’08. In awarding him the peace prize, the Nobel committee cited that proposal and his two decades of nonviolent struggle for civil rights.

Beijing condemned Liu’s 2010 award, saying it tarnished the committee’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 280 miles northeast of Beijing and the other in a fifth-floor apartment in the capital, underscores its determination to keep the 57-year-old peace laureate from becoming an inspiration to other Chinese, either by himself or through his wife.


Her treatment has been called by rights groups the most severe retaliation by a government given to a Nobel winner’s family.

Liu appeared frail and said a back injury frequently keeps her confined to bed.