Friends of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo have called on authorities to allow them to visit, as Liu’s health reportedly declines.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was jailed for “subversion” for 11 years after co-writing Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for democratic reforms. At the end of June, his lawyer said that Liu was transferred from prison to hospital to treat his late-stage liver cancer.

On Thursday, Beijing activist Hu Jia tweeted an open letter signed by over 40 close friends of the family asking to be allowed to visit Liu in the hospital on “humanitarian” grounds.

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A recent photo of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia; Hu Jia with a sign saying “free Xiaobo.” Photos: Hu Jia.

The letter came as friends of the family said that Liu’s health was declining, and that family members were asked to standby at the hospital. The hospital also said Thursday afternoon that Liu’s health was worsening.

“We are deeply sorrowful, and realise that Mr Liu Xiaobo may not have long for this world. At this moment, we urgently need to visit him, to bring Mr Liu Xiaobo and Ms Liu Xia the concern and wishes of their friends,” it said.

Hu Jia, a close friend of the couple, said that, since news of Liu’s condition was made public, several hundred reporters, diplomats and friends had been unsuccessful in attempts to find Liu at the China Medical University No 1 Hospital, where authorities say he is staying.

When an AFP reporter asked about Liu at the hospital on Wednesday, a nurse in the oncology ward said there was no record of him on the computer. US-backed Radio Free Asia also quoted overseas writer Yu Jie as saying that Liu was receiving treatment at the hospital under armed police guard and constant surveillance by state security police.

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“It’s clear that Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia and their family are under tight surveillance and cannot freely communicate with their friends and other people,” Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International, told HKFP.

Chinese authorities have claimed that Liu is receiving high-quality treatment, with a team of well-known oncologists caring for him. Authorities also announced on Wednesday that the hospital has decided to invite US, German and other foreign experts to treat him in China.

Liu Xiaobo and his wife, the poet Liu Xia, have not spoken to the media, and only close friends have been able to speak to the family.

Activist and writer Zeng Jinyan, a friend of the family, demanded that Liu Xiaobo and his friends and family be given “complete and total personal freedom” in a blog post on Friday.

She said that Liu should have complete freedom to seek treatment overseas, but until that condition is met, the names of all his doctors should be made public and they should “independently and openly inform the public on Liu Xiaobo’s condition and treatment situation.”

Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International, told HKFP that he thinks Liu Hui, Liu Xia’s brother, is under tremendous pressure from authorities, as he is on medical parole himself. But official platforms have not released information from any other family members apart from him, he said.

Varying information

Zeng, who says she is in direct contact with Liu Hui, said that many have “misread the situation.” Apparently conflicting information was released on Thursday by the hospital and by family friends.

The hospital released a handwritten statement signed by Liu Hui on Thursday, which refuted a previous message claiming that doctors had stopped treating Liu with anti-cancer drugs, as well as traditional Chinese medicine.

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A vigil in Hong Kong. Photo: P. H. Yang.

The note said that doctors had not stopped treating him with drugs, but only adjusted his medication due to the seriousness of his illness and the fast growth of his tumour.

Zeng said that targeted therapy treatment has not been effective for Liu, quoting Liu Hui as saying on Thursday evening: “His condition is at the most critical stage, spreading its quickest, with no improvement after 2–3 weeks of treatment. The side effects have severely reduced his liver function and abdominal fluid levels are also now serious, so anti-cancer drugs have been temporarily stopped mainly to preserve his liver, and give his body a chance to breathe.”

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.