Fears for the well-being of the poet Liu Xia – widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo – are growing after her friends revealed that she recently underwent surgery.

Liu has been under house arrest for years since her husband was jailed in 2008 after co-writing the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for democratic reforms. He died in July at a hospital while under surveillance. Liu Xia was last seen in public on July 15 at a memorial service for her husband. Friends and supporters have been prevented from meeting her.

According to her friend, Beijing activist Hu Jia, Liu underwent uterine fibroid treatment around a month ago – the illness involves usually-benign muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus.

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Liu Xia appears in a video posted on Youtube. Photo: Screenshot.

“[Y]ou can imagine someone remaining in a closed, lonely home prison for a long time, and over the past two years, losing her father, mother, and her beloved husband – if someday we hear that she committed suicide, I would not be surprised at all,” Hu told US-backed Radio Free Asia on Sunday.

“Before when [I] went to find her, the words she used the most were despair, falling apart. She is only able to stabilise her mood with long-term dependence on medicine.”

Liu was reportedly forcibly taken away from Beijing ahead of the Communist Party’s 19th National Congress in October. Chinese authorities often remove dissidents from the capital during important political meetings.

Su Yutong, a journalist and activist who is exiled in Germany, tweeted the news of Liu’s surgery and said that she was suffering from severe depression.

“Because the internal security agents often take her away from Beijing during sensitive periods, she says: I am like cargo, being moved from place to place,” Su tweeted.

Hu said that she should be allowed to leave the country and go to Germany or the United States, as it was the only way for her to escape from her painful situation.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China held street stands this month inviting citizens to sign Christmas cards which they will mail to Liu.

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Hong Kong Alliance members at a street stand where people can sign Christmas cards for Liu Xia. Photo: Independent Chinese PEN Center.

Albert Ho, chair of the Alliance, told RFA that the group was very concerned about Liu’s wellbeing.

“We are very concerned about her health right now, she not only underwent surgery, but our biggest concern is her long-term, serious depression. When her husband was still alive, she was already being disturbed, she often has suicidal tendencies. Now that her husband has passed away, she has no freedom at all, no way to live with her friends or family, and is being moved around by internal security, not being treated as a person at all. We strongly urge that she be allowed to seek medical treatment outside the country. She needs to undergo therapy – we hope the Chinese government will immediately grant her her freedom.”

Bao Tong, the former top adviser to ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang, commented on the authorities’ treatment of Liu, saying: “[I]s this comprehensive rule of law? Is this the 19th party congress? Is this Xi Jinping’s new era?”

catherine lai

Catherine Lai

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.