- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BEIJING (AP) — The wife of the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo said Tuesday she hopes to travel to Norway to collect the Nobel Peace Prize on his behalf, though for now she can only leave her Beijing home under police escort.

China, meanwhile, claimed the award was an attack on the country and an attempt to change its political system, and it retaliated by canceling another set of meetings with the Norwegian government.

In brief interviews by phone, Liu Xia said her husband has started receiving better food since the Oslo-based Nobel Committee announced the award last Friday. The award honors Mr. Liu’s more than two decades of advocacy of human rights and peaceful democratic change, which started with the demonstrations at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Mr. Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic, is now in the second year of an 11-year prison term after being convicted of inciting subversion over his role in writing an influential 2008 manifesto for political reform.

“He said he hoped I could receive the award on his behalf,” Mrs. Liu told the Associated Press. However, she said she was not optimistic about her chances of leaving since she has been placed under virtual house arrest since the award was announced.

“At this point, I can’t even get out of my own house door, let alone the gates of the country,” she said, adding that she has not been allowed to meet with friends or journalists and that police escort her every time she goes outside her home.

China has been infuriated by the prize, accusing other countries Tuesday of using the award to attack the country and warning that it won’t change the communist nation’s political course.

“If some people try to change China’s political system in this way and try to stop the Chinese people from moving forward, that is obviously making a mistake,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said. “This is not only disrespect for China’s judicial system, but also puts a big question mark on their true intentions.”

Asked whether Mr. Liu would be allowed to collect the award Dec. 10 in Oslo, Mr. Ma would only respond by saying that it is “up to judicial authorities.” He avoided saying whether Mr. Liu’s wife would be allowed to go.

He also refused to answer questions about Mrs. Liu’s treatment, even saying at first that he did not who she was. Mrs. Liu has not been charged with any crime, but ‘soft detention’ is a common tactic used by the Chinese government to intimidate and stifle activists and critics.

Beijing also singled out Norway’s government Tuesday, saying bilateral relations would suffer because of its backing of the award, although the Nobel Committee acts independently.

China canceled a second meeting between visiting Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and another senior Chinese official, leading her to scrap the Beijing leg of her trip, Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Raghnild Imerslund said.

By supporting “the wrong decision of the Nobel Committee, the Norwegian government has moved to hurt bilateral relations,” Mr. Ma said. “There is every reason for the Chinese people to be unhappy.”

In her interview, Mrs. Liu said she has learned from her husband’s brother that the prison began serving him individually prepared food with rice on Monday rather than a portion of mostly boiled vegetables usually served to all the prisoners, which is typically of poor quality. There was no immediate indication that any other improvements were made to Mr. Liu’s prison conditions.

Chinese authorities allowed the dissident and his wife a brief, tearful meeting in prison Sunday. But Mrs. Liu said that, since her return, guards have been posted outside her apartment and she is not allowed to receive visits from anyone other than her two brothers. Many of her friends, even some outside Beijing, were under house arrest, too, she said.

“I am not allowed to meet the press or friends. If I have to do any daily chores, like visiting my mother or buying groceries, I have to go in their (police) car,” said Mrs. Liu, who was using a new cell phone brought to her by a brother after police rendered her old one unusable. The new phone has since been disconnected as of Tuesday night.

She said she was entirely reliant on the Internet to keep in touch with friends, and she has received no explanation for the restrictions or any indication of when they would be lifted.

Coughing occasionally, the soft-spoken Mrs. Liu, a poet, sounded tired and said she was running a low fever, which she blamed on a lack of rest. But she remained hopeful that the restrictions would be lifted soon.

“I believe they won’t go on like this forever and that there will be positive change,” she said. To China she said: “You’re such a big government, you should have the courage to face this reality.”

Associated Press writer Gillian Wong and Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.