Liu Xia, the 57-year-old widow of the late Chinese renegade intellectual and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, is a high-profile victim of China’s authoritarian control.

She has been kept under house arrest and smothering police surveillance since immediately prior to her husband being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his non-violent fight for democracy and human rights in China. The activist, critical of the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, was incarcerated as a political prisoner and died under guard in a hospital in July last year.

Chinese authorities have offered no explanation about the legal grounds for keeping her confined to her house under police watch, but it is widely believed to prevent her from having contact with foreign media or her supporters.

Already, seven and a half long years have passed since the Chinese government began to deny her the freedom of communication and movement.

After her husband’s death, it has been reported, she sent a letter to one of her friends in which she said, “I mutter to myself. I am going mad.”

Her supporters are worried about her declining health. She is said to be hoping to leave China and live abroad. Some countries are preparing to accept her.

China has not just sent many critics of the communist government to jail but has also deprived their families of freedom.

Such outrageous human rights violations must not be allowed to continue.

The Chinese government should immediately set Liu Xia free.

Another famous victim of Beijing’s harsh crackdown on dissent is Chen Guangcheng, a blind civil rights activist, who, along with his wife, was put under house arrest upon leaving prison after he served his sentence.

Even Chen’s daughter was also barred from leaving her home and was unable to attend school. His family was under constant surveillance through the windows of their house.

“China is a huge prison, and my house is at its center,” he was once quoted as saying.

There are many other families that are trapped in similar plights in China. Liu Xia’s predicament is just one symbolic story about the serious human rights situation in today’s China.

The administration of President Xi Jinping has further tightened restrictions on freedom of speech.

The Xi administration has remained defiant of international criticism about its dismal human rights record, apparently emboldened by the country’s enormous economic power.

There are even high-ranking Chinese government officials who become furious when a foreign journalist asks a question about a human rights issue in China and start berating the journalist.

What is the Chinese Communist Party so afraid of? Is the party not confident that it is supported by the people of its own country?

If it is proud of how it has led China’s economic growth and rise to wealth, the party should be able to take a fair and open-minded attitude toward dissenting voices.

“I hope to be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions,” Liu Xiaobo once wrote, referring to the country’s centuries-old tradition of official persecution of intellectuals for their writings.

Regrettably, his hope has not been realized.

The international community including Japan needs to keep close watch on the human rights situation in China and continue speaking against any abuse by the Chinese government.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 1