More than 100 Nobel laureates from around the globe are urging China's incoming President Xi Jinping to free imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
The group of 134 Nobel winners sent a letter to Xi Tuesday, asking him to "immediately and unconditionally release" Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion." They also want his wife Liu Xia to be released from house arrest, which she was placed under after her husband won the Nobel Prize in 2010.
The group, which includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, said the release of Liu and his wife would be an "essential first step" toward embracing the fundamental rights of Chinese citizens. The Nobel laureates warned that no government can restrict freedom of thought and association without hindering its development.
U.S.-based dissident Yang Jianli, a former political prisoner who helped arrange the letter, said that the project is monumental and will demand the attention of Beijing.
"As far as I know, it's the first time in history by so many laureates to sign on to the same letter," said Yang. "I'm not sure China will respond the right way, but this letter itself will have a great impact on the minds of the new leaders in China and also on the minds of the people [in China]."
Yang, who took part in the Tiananmen Square student movement, says there is little evidence to suggest that Xi will take immediate action to improve Liu's situation.
Chinese authorities sentenced the Liu, 33, to 11 years in prison in 2009 on subversion charges related to his co-authoring of "Charter 08," a manifesto calling for political reforms and greater rights in Communist-ruled China.
His wife Liu Xia was placed under house arrest to prevent her from traveling to Norway to accept the Nobel prize on his behalf. Yang, who instead represented the Liu family at the Nobel acceptance ceremony, says Beijing has admitted that no charges have been filed against her.
"And that can either be a lie or an admission that Liu Xia's house arrest is illegal ...no due process has ever been undertaken for her house arrest," Yang added. "So her house arrest is totally illegal."
Beijing has responded bitterly to Liu winning the Nobel Prize, slamming the Nobel committee for meddling in its internal politics and blocking all mention of Liu on the country's social media. The group of Nobel winners expressed concern earlier that the Chinese government continues to block access to the main Nobel Prize web site.
Despite complaints of interference by Beijing, international governments and rights groups have continued to express support for Liu. China's latest Nobel Prize winner, Mo Yan, also is signaling support for his imprisoned colleague. After he won the prize for literature in October, Mo - who has the support of the Beijing government - unexpectedly said that he hopes Liu is released from prison "as soon as possible."