Speculation has arisen over the condition of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is ill with terminal cancer.

China has faced international calls to release Liu after news broke at the end of June that he was given medical parole.

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A photo of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, believed to have been taken recently. Photo: Activists.

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times reported on Friday that Liu’s abdominal swelling has worsened, citing information from the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang, where he is staying. The news comes just before Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday.

“Liu Xiaobo’s liver function is worsening – his bilirubin levels are gradually rising,” the hospital said in a statement on Thursday

‘On standby’

Meanwhile, writer Ye Du, who is a good friend of Liu and his wife, said that the doctors have asked his family members to be ready for his death at any time.

“Doctors have asked family members to be on standby 24/7,” he said, adding that another family member had confirmed the information.

Previously, Ye said that Liu’s illness worsened on Wednesday, citing a message from a family member. The message claimed that doctors stopped treating Liu with anti-cancer drugs, as well as traditional Chinese medicine.

But the Hong Kong-based NGO the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said that a family member told them that Liu is not in immediate danger. The family member said that Liu’s two brothers will head to Shenyang – where Liu is being treated – to see him on Saturday.

The Centre speculated that claims of Liu being in danger would make G20 leaders reluctant to raise the call for Liu to leave the country for treatment. The NGO previously said that Liu was well enough to travel abroad for treatment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Berlin on Tuesday for a state visit. The G20 summit will be held in Hamburg on Friday and Saturday.

‘Subversion’ sentencing

Meanwhile, the European Parliament debated Liu’s case and the case of detained NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh on Thursday afternoon. It passed a resolution calling on Chinese authorities to release Liu and his wife and allow him to seek medical care of his own choosing and freely communicate with the outside world.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “subversion” after drafting Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for democratic reforms in China. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 2010.

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Protesters at the July 1 march in Hong Kong. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Liu is suspected to be under surveillance, with only close friends able to speak to family members. Friends say that Liu’s wife, the poet Liu Xia, has no way of communicating with the outside world, though she appears to be by his side.

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Shenyang authorities have claimed that they are giving Liu the best treatment possible, with eight well-known oncologists caring for him. The legal bureau of Shenyang announced on Wednesday that the Chinese hospital caring for Liu has decided to invite US, German and other foreign experts to treat him in China.

When asked if that means Liu would not be allowed to leave the country for treatment, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday that China protects the rights of all prisoners according to the law.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.