The country’s Nobel peace prize winner, now facing death, should never have been jailed. Beijing should let Liu Xiaobo and his wife go free – and the rest of the world should say so

China’s Nobel peace laureate is no longer behind bars; but nor is he in any sense free. Liu Xiaobo’s lawyer, who has been unable to speak to him directly, says police are posted inside his room as he lies in hospital, terminally ill with liver cancer. Friends have been unable to visit him there. He is at least allowed to see his wife, Liu Xia. But her contact with friends is extremely limited too. In a brief but devastating recording of a video call, shared by one of their friends, she weeps as she says her husband cannot be given surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, presumably because the cancer is so advanced. It appears that the couple want to return to their home in Beijing or go abroad. The authorities call this medical parole, but an eminent scholar of Chinese law calls it “non-release ‘release’” – transfer into another form of coercive control.

China, though it does not like discussing Mr Liu, has said he is being looked after by “renowned cancer experts” and has urged other countries not to interfere or “make irresponsible remarks”. To Beijing, he is simply a criminal, sentenced to 11 years for inciting subversion of state power. But his crime was co-authoring and gathering support for a call for peaceful democratic reform. And his wife, who has endured years of strict house arrest, has never been accused – let alone convicted – of any crime.

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