Police have arrested the brother-in-law of China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo on fraud charges in what the family said is the latest act of official retaliation.
Beijing police detained Liu Hui on Jan. 31, just before the Lunar New Year and a planned family reunion, and formally charged him two weeks ago over a real estate dispute, lawyer Mo Shaoping said Thursday. He said the criminal charges were unwarranted in a business dispute that has since been resolved.
Liu Hui's arrest is the latest blow to the family and, Mo said, is particularly painful for his sister, Liu Xia, the wife of democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo. He was imprisoned in late 2008, and ever since he was awarded the Nobel prize two-and-a-half years ago, Liu Xia has been under house arrest. Isolated in an apartment with no phone or Internet, she appears emotionally fragile, allowed only weekly visits with family members and a monthly visit to her husband in prison.
The latest arrest "affected the whole family, especially Liu Xia, who is worried about her brother," said Mo.
Calls to the prosecutor's office in the suburban Beijing district of Huairou where Liu Hui is to be tried rang unanswered. Family members publicly declined comment, but privately one said the stress on the family is taking its toll. They are under close surveillance and have been warned not to talk to the media about Liu Xiaobo or Liu Xia, said the family member, who asked not to be identified.
An associate of Mo's, who declined to be named, said Liu Xia skipped her February visit to Liu Xiaobo in Jinzhou Prison 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Beijing out of anger at the arrest of her brother.
Chinese authorities commonly put pressure on relatives and friends of government critics and political and religious dissidents as a way to try to keep them in line. Even by those standards, the treatment of the Liu family is severe and underscores how the Nobel award embarrassed the Chinese government, which bridles at criticisms of its human rights record and its authoritarian political system.
"We used to interact with both Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's brothers and sisters, but now we have been completely cut off from them," said Pu Zhiqiang, an activist lawyer and family friend. "I think there is only one explanation about this: that the family has been the victim of repressive measures, which are cruel and cowardly."
Liu Xiaobo, once a literary critic and university lecturer, had campaigned for peaceful democratic change for 20 years and been imprisoned three times before his current stint, an 11-year sentence for drafting a programmatic call for political reform called Charter '08.
The recent arrest of the brother, Liu Hui, may be particular retaliation for two incidents that broke the security cordon around Liu Xia and her isolation in her fifth-floor apartment in central Beijing. Reporters from The Associated Press visited her briefly in December, getting into the building while the guards were apparently away at lunch. A few weeks later, five Chinese activist friends did the same thing. In both cases, Liu Xia appeared agitated and shaken.
Pu, the lawyer and Liu family friend, said arresting and prosecuting Liu Hui in an ordinary business dispute fits a pattern of selectively using the law to harass activists and their families. The artist and prominent government critic Ai Weiwei has faced tax charges, for example, rather than a direct attack against his activism. "State security is increasingly using selective enforcement of the law," Pu said.
Police previously arrested Liu Hui, in April last year for the same real estate dispute but then released him on bail in September, Mo said. According to the recent indictment, Liu represented a company from the southern city of Shenzhen in real estate development deals in Beijing, and he and a partner pocketed 3 million yuan ($500,000) that was claimed by another party to the transaction.
He is scheduled to go on trial in May, Mo said, even though the disputed funds have already been returned, and there's insufficient evidence of a crime. "This is irregular," Mo said.