Liu Xiaobo: How a dissident's declining health turned into a propaganda battle

Chinese dissident given medical parole
Chinese dissident given medical parole

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Story highlights

  • German authorities have reacted angrily to leaked surveillance footage from inside the hospital.
  • Liu was granted medical parole and released from jail last month after he was diagnosed with liver cancer

Beijing (CNN)As he lies in a hospital bed fighting for his life, cancer-stricken Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has become the focus of a government propaganda offensive aimed at pushing back international criticisms of Beijing's treatment of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

German authorities reacted angrily Monday to what they described as edited hospital surveillance footage leaked by Chinese security officials showing a German doctor visiting Liu and praising his Chinese medical team.
    "It seems that security organs are steering the process, not medical experts," said a statement issued Monday by the German embassy in Beijing, calling the video's release a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality and "against the expressed wishes of the German side."
    "The behavior undermines trust in the authorities dealing with Mr. Liu's case, which is vital to ensure maximum success of his medical treatment," it added.
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday declined to address the German allegation but reiterated the government's standard response.
    "We hope relevant countries will respect China's judicial sovereignty and not use a so-called individual case to interfere in China's internal affairs," said Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing.
    In this recent undated handout photo, Liu Xiaobo, left, is attended to by his wife Liu Xia in a hospital in China.

    Footage leaked

    The leaked footage was first posted on YouTube on Sunday, in which two Western specialists were seen visiting a gaunt Liu in his hospital room -- with the German physician telling Liu's wife: "It is very, very good that the doctors from China have asked us to come and to help -- they are very committed to the treatment of your husband."
    Liu, 61, was granted medical parole and released from jail last month after he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer. He had been serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" in northeastern China.
    The Chinese authorities continue to censor domestic news coverage of Liu, deleting social media posts about him and blocking online searches containing his name -- with even the foreign ministry scrubbing clean all Liu-related questions from the official transcripts of its daily press briefings.
    But Liu's plight has come under a global spotlight amid allegations from his supporters that he had become gravely ill due to his cancer not being detected and treated in time -- and that China has refused to let him seek treatment abroad for political reasons, despite calls from other governments, including the United States and Germany.
    In the face of rising international pressure on China to let Liu and his family leave the country, Beijing has been steadily releasing more information on his status through the hospital website and leaking edited videos of him to a few Chinese-language media outlets.
    "The authorities' newfound transparency is their way of showing an all-out effort to gather the best doctors to save Liu," said Hu Jia, a leading Chinese human rights activist who has known Liu's wife for years and has served prison terms for his own advocacy.
    "But we have reasons to suspect that the Communist leadership has never wanted to see a Chinese Mandela who can make an impact after walking out of prison."
    A prolific writer and longtime activist, Liu had been in and out of jail since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. His most recent conviction, on Christmas Day 2009, stemmed from his co-authorship of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform and human rights in China.
    In 2010, while in prison, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" -- prompting an infuriated Beijing to place his wife under house arrest and freeze diplomatic ties with Norway, where the prize winner is chosen.
    The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize committee attend the ceremony for Liu at Oslo's city hall in December of that year. The ceremony centered around an empty chair while Liu was imprisoned.

    'Critical condition'

    The most recent leaked video emerged shortly after two Western doctors allowed to visit Liu issued a joint statement Sunday. Reiterating Liu's request that the remainder of his care be provided in Germany or the US, they said that Liu could travel safely for treatment overseas if he was permitted to leave China soon.
    On Monday, Liu's medical team -- composed of prominent Chinese oncologists -- declared him in "critical condition," ostensibly contradicting the Western doctors' opinion just a day earlier.
    An earlier statement from Shenyang officials also quoted Liu's family as saying they were "satisfied" with his treatment. It added that Liu had a history of hepatitis B before imprisonment and prison authorities had provided him with an annual physical examination as well as monthly checkups, and no abnormal conditions had been found before the recent diagnosis.
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    "The essence of the event is that a Chinese prisoner was diagnosed with cancer. However the West regards Liu, his identity as a prisoner is equal to other prisoners before the law, and he will not be given special status in China," said an editorial in the popular state-run Global Times newspaper Tuesday. "Today's China is stronger and more confident, and will not yield to Western pressure."
    Liu's supporters say the sudden flow of information is clearly targeted at an audience outside of China, with the government carefully selecting platforms that are either blocked in China like YouTube, or little known such as the hospital website.
    Even the strongly worded Global Times editorial only appeared in its English edition, which few ordinary Chinese read.