For 26 months, Liu Xia has been cut off from the world outside her apartment in Beijing – prevented from receiving guests, making phone calls or using the Internet. She's been charged with no crime. She is being punished for being the wife of China's most famous political dissident, jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
On Thursday, Ms. Liu had her first chance to speak publicly since before the 2010 Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo where her husband was represented by an empty chair. It was only because the guards who keep 24-hour watch outside her door left their posts, seemingly to have lunch.
"We live in such an absurd place," the 53-year-old poet told reporters from the Associated Press, who visited her while the guards were away. "I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this."
Beijing was infuriated by the Nobel committee's decision to recognize Mr. Liu, a prominent democracy activist since the 1989 demonstrations on Tiananmen Square. Mr. Liu is now four years into an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion," a charge stemming from a pro-democracy manifesto known as Charter 08 that he helped write and disseminate.
The ruling Communist Party has also isolated his normally outspoken spouse. Police were deployed around the couple's apartment building in west Beijing in the hours before Mr. Liu's Nobel win was formally announced. Ms. Liu has not been seen in public since, although she has been spotted smoking a cigarette by the apartment window.
The Associated Press report said Ms. Liu looked "frail" on Thursday, and she told the reporters she was suffering from a back injury that means she's often confined to bed. Dressed in a track suit and slippers, she was described as visibly shaken to see her surprise guests and photos showed her weeping.
Ms. Liu said she was now being taken to see her husband once a month, after initially being denied access to him following his Nobel Prize win. She said Mr. Liu was in good health, although she couldn't remember when the last visit was. "I don't keep track of the days any more," she said.
She said her husband was aware how she was being treated since he won the prize. "I told him: 'I am going through what you are going through almost.' "
Earlier this week, a group of 134 Nobel Prize laureates published an open letter calling on China's new leader, Xi Jinping, to end the government's persecution of the couple.
However, the Chinese government has given no indication it will budge on Mr. Liu's sentence. The Foreign Ministry this week repeated its stand that the Nobel committee's decision to give the peace prize to a convicted criminal represented "external interference in China's judicial sovereignty and domestic affairs."
Ms. Liu's rare interview comes as Chinese author Mo Yan heads to Stockholm to collect this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Chinese national not in jail or exile to win a Nobel prize. While news of Mr. Liu's prize has been squelched – many Chinese have never heard of Mr. Liu, and even fewer know he won the prize – Mr. Mo, an writer with long ties to the Communist Party establishment, has been feted as a hero in the country's state-controlled media.
At a press conference in Stockholm, Mr. Mo spoke in favour of such selective censorship, comparing it to airport-security checks. "When I was taking my flight, going through the customs … they also wanted to check me – even taking off my belt and shoes," he said. "But I think these checks are necessary."