China has agreed to allow liver cancer experts from the U.S., Germany and other countries to join a medical team treating imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, amid international criticism of Beijing’s handling of his case and calls for him to be allowed to be treated abroad.
The judicial bureau in a northeastern city where Liu is being treated said Wednesday Liu’s medical team agreed to a request by Liu’s family members for foreign experts to be consulted. Liu, China’s best-known political prisoner, is being treated at a Shenyang hospital for late-stage liver cancer diagnosed in late May.
The bureau said in an online statement that the invited experts were “the most authoritative liver cancer treatment experts,” but gave no other details. Other countries whose experts had been invited weren’t named.
In an emailed statement, the German foreign ministry in Berlin said it supports a humanitarian solution and hopes Liu will get the medical treatment he needs.
It was unclear whether Liu’s case was brought up when German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Berlin on Wednesday ahead of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Following initial questions over how Liu had become so sick without having been previously diagnosed, authorities said they had assembled a team of eight Chinese specialists to oversee his treatment and have released statements testifying to the care he is receiving.
Yet his friends have raised concerns that Liu, his wife and other family members have not been able to freely communicate with the outside and that their messages have been tightly controlled by authorities, who say Liu’s family has been satisfied with their course of treatment.
“Having foreign experts on the medical team is no replacement for Liu Xiaobo and his family to freely choose how and where he should be treated,” Liu’s friend, scholar Wen Kejian, said Wednesday. “We have not been able to speak to family members, who are under pressure not to speak to us.”
Wen said he believes Liu and his family want to seek medical treatment overseas and that it is important for Liu to be allowed to communicate with his friends for the sake of his emotional health as he battles the liver cancer that has metastasized to his entire body.
Wen and another friend of Liu’s, Mo Zhixu, tried to visit Liu at the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang where the authorities said Liu is being treated. They made inquiries at likely floors, but were turned away when nurses said they were not aware of a patient by the name of Liu Xiaobo.
Western governments have been urging Beijing to release Liu and allow him the freedom to choose where he wants to be treated. The invitation of foreign experts also followed meetings between Chinese and Western officials, who suggested at least American and German doctors be allowed to see Liu.
Geng Shuang, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said Wednesday that China protects the rights of those convicted and serving time in jail.
“We request that China’s judicial sovereignty be respected,” Geng said at a daily media briefing. “No country shall interfere with China’s internal affairs through an individual case.”
Liu, 61, an essayist and literary critic, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 on the charge of inciting subversion of state power, based on his writings, including the bold Charter 08 that he co-authored. That document and some of his prior writings called for political reforms that would end the one-party communist rule. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while incarcerated.
China calls Liu a criminal who sought to overthrow the government and has denounced the awarding of the Nobel prize to him as an attack on its political and legal system.
In a statement Wednesday, Amnesty International reiterated calls for Liu and his wife Liu Xia to be allowed to travel overseas.
“It is not too late for the authorities to end this cruel farce,” the group said by email. The invitation to foreign experts appeared to be “in part an attempt to limit international criticism,” it said.