The Chinese political activist, academic and author Liu Xiaobo, jailed for 11 years in December 2009 for incitiment to subvert state power after he co-authored the political reform manifesto 'Charter 08', was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 8th for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China"1.
On October 10th his wife, Liu Xia, was able to visit him in prison but was subsequently placed under house arrest in her Beijing home. However, Beijing-based French journalist and Mediapart contributor Jordan Pouille has managed to reach her by telephone.
Editors please note: this interview is translated into English from its original publication in French in Mediapart on October 12th, 2010.
Q: How was your meeting with Liu Xiaobo when you told him that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize?
Liu Xia: When I arrived Sunday, October 10th, at Jinzhou prison to visit Liu Xiaobo, his jailors told me they had already announced the news to him overnight Saturday. Then they took me to a room, not the usual visiting room, where Liu Xiaobo was waiting for me. We embraced each other and Xiaobo calmly confirmed that he was aware of the news. He told me that the prize was first of all [dedicated to] all the lost souls of June 4th, 1989. He also told me that he was really sorry that Xu Jue, the veteran militant who is known as the mother of Tiananmen Square, was not given the prize. He said that for this he carried a heavy burden. Then he broke down in tears.
In fact, we didn't speak for very long, one hour at the most. Liu Xiaobo told me that he didn't think the Nobel Prize committee would give an award to an imprisoned man.
Q: You were placed under house arrest upon your return. Why?
Liu Xia: Since Sunday evening, when I came back from the prison in Jinzhou, the police ordered me not to leave, and to not receive any friends. If I want to visit my family or to buy food, I can only go with their vehicle, under escort. There are lots of policemen around my appartment, I can't even count how many. I don't talk to my neighbours, for fear of causing them problems.
Q: What explanations have you been given?
Liu Xia: The police simply don't want to discuss the Nobel prize with me. They have given me no reason for this house arrest. They just explained, to me and my brother, that it was an unquestionable order that came fom upon high. They didn't tell me either when this order would end.
Q: You cannot talk to journalists?
Liu Xia: Chinese journalists cannot talk about the Nobel prize and foreign journalists are kept outside my home. My last telephone was cut-off since the evening of the Nobel prize results. I have a new mobile telephone that has just been given to me. I am certain that the police already know about it.
Q: Has the prize had consequences on Liu Xiaobo's living conditions in prison?
Liu Xia: Things are already much better for him. They are treating him better, give him better food. Liu Xiaobo even has a hot plate in his prison cell.
Q: Will you travel to be at the Nobel prize-giving ceremony?
Liu Xia: Yes, it is very important and Liu Xiaobo absolutely wants me to participate in it. I also want that. But it is complicated. I have a passport but I don't have the right to leave my home. And if I manage to fly to Norway, will I be allowed to return to China? Whatever, for the moment the Chinese authorities have not yet given me a warning about the ceremony.
Q: Have you received support from Norway, from the European Union?
Liu Xia: Norway has not yet been in contact with me, but my telephone is out of service since Sunday evening. I know that diplomats from the European Union have come to the gates of my residence but that the police refused them access. They told me that they wanted to meet me as soon as I can leave my home. I learned that they wanted to give me a letter of congratulations from European Commission president [José Manuel] Barroso."
Q: Are you optimistic about the outcome of events?
Liu Xia: All that I hope is that Liu Xiaobo will be able to come home as quickly as possible.
1: Presentation by Thornton Jagland, Chair of the Nobel Committee.
English version: Graham Tearse