A group of 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners have called on President Barack Obama to make a public call for the release of their fellow laureate, Liu Xiaobo, and his wife Liu Xia during a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.
The laureates, led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote to Obama, who is also a recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, on Sept. 2 to urge him to press the issue with Xi, the U.S. advocacy group Freedom Now said.
"All attempts to resolve their detentions through private diplomacy have failed," the letter released by Freedom Now said.
"We believe that unless leaders like you take urgent action, both publicly and privately, that China will continue to believe it can act with impunity and without consequence for its behavior."
The letter said Liu Xia's health had declined "precipitously" in the past year and she should be allowed to travel abroad for medical care as she had requested.
Freedom Now founder Jared Genser, who acts as the pro-bono counsel for Liu Xiaobo and his wife, said in a note accompanying the letter that no one in the White House had ever called publicly for Liu Xia's release from house arrest, or even mentioned her name.
"This is particularly worrying because the Chinese government continues both publicly and privately to insist she isn't under house arrest at all," he said.
Liu Xiaobo, 59, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the army, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule. He won the Nobel Prize in 2010.
Last month 10 U.S. senators called on Obama to use his summit with Xi, which will take place on Thursday and Friday in Washington, to take him to task for what they called an "extraordinary assault" on human rights and to call for the release of Liu Xiaobo and other dissidents.
Washington said last month that Beijing needed to improve its rights record to ensure a successful summit, but activists have accused the Obama administration of subordinating its concerns about treatment of dissidents to economic ties with Beijing.