BEIJING — In a quiet, leafy Beijing neighborhood, a woman has been living in enforced isolation in her book-lined, fifth-floor apartment.
Her apparent misdeed: being married to a Nobel Peace Prize winner whom the Chinese government calls a criminal.
She has largely been held incommunicado, effectively under house arrest, watched by police, without phone or Internet access and prohibited from seeing all but a few family members.
“Liu Xia has been completely cut off from communication with the outside world and leads a lonely and oppressed life,” said Beijing activist Zeng Jinyan, the wife of another well-known dissident who has endured bouts of surveillance and harassment. “It has already been a year, I dare not imagine how much longer she must bear this pain.”
The Nobel Prize announcment Oct. 8 cheered China’s fractured, persecuted dissident community and brought calls from the U.S., Germany and others for Mr. Liu’s release.
But it also infuriated Beijing, and authorities harassed and detained dozens of his supporters in the weeks that followed.
China has a long history of punishing family members of government critics.
However, the Liu case is different because he is the first to win the Peace Prize, and by isolating Liu Xia, 51, the government seems intent on preventing the frail-looking poet with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses from becoming a rallying point for political activists.
“The Chinese government simply just do not want people to be reminded of the emotional, the human aspect of Liu Xiaobo in jail, and to do that they also want to erase Liu Xia from people’s memory,” said Wang Songlian, a researcher with China Human Rights Defenders in Hong Kong.
The harsh treatment of Liu Xia seemingly runs afoul of China’s laws and might be the most severe retaliation ever suffered by the family of a Peace Prize laureate.
“As far as I know, the way she is treated is unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “Her situation is extremely regrettable.”
Mr. Lundestad said the committee also is worried about Liu Xiaobo because it has not received any new information about his situation since late last year.
The government did not comment.
A literary critic and dogged campaigner for peaceful political change, Liu Xiaobo tried to negotiate the retreat of pro-democracy student demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in 1989.