Liu Xiaobo’s counsel and will testify before the U.S. Congress today as the focus of some international human rights activists turn to securing the removal of Chinese restrictions on the dissident’s widow, Liu Xia.

Liu Xiaobo, one of the most important Chinese dissidents of his generation, died Thursday at the age of 61. The democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner was jailed for most of the past decade. He was diagnosed with liver cancer on May 23 and was released for medical treatment days later. He became the first Nobel laureate to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who passed away in a hospital while held by the Nazis in 1938.

Liu’s international counsel Jared Genser will front an open hearing of the Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs, alongside supporters U.S.-based Chinese dissident Yang Jianli and U.S. writer Perry Link.

“It is crucial that the international community be immediately given full and open access to communicate with Liu Xia, that her wishes for the location and timing of Liu Xiaobo's burial be fully honored and that, as the Chinese have claimed for years that she is under 'no legal restriction,' she immediately be given a passport and allowed to travel abroad as she sees fit,” Genser says.

Genser’s sentiment appears to be shared by others in the international human rights community. Whilst mourning Liu’s passing, several groups have turned their focus to the plight of Liu Xia, who has been held under house arrest, without trial, for the past seven years.

In an op-ed for U.S. News, Genser noted that prior to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in late 2010, he expressed concerns to Liu Xia that she would not likely remain free if Liu won the prize.

“She told me unequivocally, ‘My place is in China with my husband.’”

Shortly after the award was announced in October 2010, Liu Xia was placed under house arrest.

“She has been held without charge or trial ever since,” Genser says.

The hearing, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C., will be broadcasted live online.

Cause for optimism?

Genser, who has served as Liu's pro bono counsel since 2010, told The News Lens in an interview in May that there were reasons for optimism that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration may be more open to pressing China on human rights issues than predecessor President Barack Obama.

Despite Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and the belief that human rights concerns were raised privately during state visits between the U.S. and China, Genser believes the Obama administration lacked teeth in pressuring China on the issue.

In late 2012, a large group of Nobel laureates sent a letter to Xi Jinping, China’s president-in-waiting at the time, calling for Liu Xiaobo’s release.

As Genser says, “Do you think the Chinese noticed the 134 laureates that on the letter, or the one [Obama] who didn’t sign?”

Likewise, when Liu’s supporters passed a bill through the Senate that would have changed the street name in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington to Liu Xiaobo Plaza in 2016, “Obama threatened publicly to veto that bill,” Genser said.

Obama, Genser said, relegated China human rights to be handled almost exclusively by the State Department, which meant that little was achieved outside of low-level activities like monitoring and reporting.

“Honestly, I don’t think President Trump could be any worse than President Obama on China human rights,” Genser said.

Two weeks ago, Genser’s NGO Freedom Now released a letter, signed by 154 Nobel Laureates, urging Xi Jinping to allow Liu Xiaobo to leave China to receive medical treatment in the U.S. in his final weeks. Obama’s signature was again missing.

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Editor: Olivia Yang