BEIJING — Imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo has been transferred to a hospital after being diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, authorities and his friends say.
The deteriorating health of China's best-known political prisoner was immediately met with dismay and anger by the country's beleaguered community of rights activists and lawyers, who called it a blow to the democracy movement.
Liu, 61, is receiving treatment at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, lawyer Mo Shaoping told The Associated Press. Liu was diagnosed on May 23, and prison authorities in a statement said Liu was granted a medical parole and placed in the care of cancer experts, although it was not clear exactly when he was transferred to the hospital.
His cancer appears to be severe. "No surgery, no radiation, and no chemotherapy will do," a sobbing Liu Xia, his wife, said in a video phone call recorded on a cell phone. The clip has been shared in circles of supporters and verified by the couple's friends, who said she was at the hospital.
Liu's supporters and international human rights advocates are urging China to provide the best care to Liu and allow him to seek medical treatments abroad.
"The Chinese government's culpability for wrongfully imprisoning Liu Xiaobo is deepened by the fact that they released him only when he became gravely ill," said Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "The government should immediately allow Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, to seek proper treatment wherever they wish."
Liu, a literary critic and China's most prominent democracy campaigner, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 after being convicted of inciting state subversion for writing and disseminating Charter '08, a manifesto calling for an end to single-party rule.
The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by a Norway-based Nobel committee, which cheered China's fractured, persecuted dissident community and brought calls from the U.S., Germany and others for Liu's release, but also infuriated Beijing. In April, Beijing finally normalized relations with Oslo after a six-year hiatus.
The Liaoning Provincial Prison Administrative Bureau, which oversees the prison where Liu was incarcerated, confirmed in a statement on its website Monday that Liu had received a medical parole. It said the China Medical University No. 1 Affiliated Hospital in Shenyang formed a team of eight nationally known experts in the field of tumors that drew up a treatment plan for Liu.
It was unclear exactly what treatment Liu was receiving but as of 10 days ago his condition was stable, Mo said, citing Liu's family. He noted, however, that medical parole is only granted to prisoners who are gravely ill and unable to be treated at the prison's medical facilities.
Mo said Liu was likely to be closely guarded at the hospital in Shenyang and unable to receive visits from friends or return home. "Normally, most people will be allowed to go home, or to be with their families, or hospitals, but Liu Xiaobo is a special case," Mo said.
"I don't think he will be allowed to meet with people other than close relatives," he added.
At Liu Xia's apartment building in Beijing, AP journalists were accosted Monday by half a dozen plainclothes and other security officers and physically blocked from going beyond the first floor.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said Monday he was not aware of the latest development in Liu's case.
The news of Liu's diagnosis shocked and saddened fellow human rights activists who have admired the sacrifices Liu and his wife have made in the hope of achieving peaceful political change. Activists have also been alarmed by Liu Xia's gradual descent into depression after the soft-spoken poet and artist was forcibly sequestered by state security at home during her husband's imprisonment.
"It's known that Liu Xiaobo and his family have made a tremendous sacrifice for the cause of freedom and democracy in China," said Shanghai-based legal scholar Zhang Xuezhong. "This is unfortunate news for him and his family, and it's a blow to China's democracy movement, as so many people have placed hope in him, and rightfully so."
Zhang said Liu must go abroad for medical treatment. "I doubt he will get the treatment that is timely, sufficient and attentive in China," Zhang said. "The international community has a moral obligation to fight for him to get the treatment outside China."
Guo Yuhua, a professor of sociology at the elite Tsinghua University in Beijing, said she was angered by the news. "Those with conscience have given so much to this country, yet they are persecuted by the totalitarian rule," she told AP. "Those who have done evil will sooner or later be held accountable and written into the history to be spat on forever."
She urged Beijing to provide the best medical treatment for Liu and facilitate his travel if he and his family wish to seek treatment overseas. "Life and dignity should be first and foremost in this case," Guo said.
In Washington, Liu's international lawyer, Jared Genser, said he was deeply concerned by the circumstances of the dissident's parole.
"It is unconscionable that the government neglected Dr. Liu's health, despite repeated calls from the international community to ensure proper care. The Chinese authorities must provide Liu Xiaobo open access to his counsel and to the international community so that his wishes at this difficult time can be ascertained and honored," he said in a statement.
Associated Press journalists Isolda Morillo and Mark Schiefelbein contributed to this report.