BEIJING (REUTERS) - The wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo has filed an extraordinary appeal for his retrial, his lawyer said on Tuesday, in a move that could renew the focus on China's human rights record.
The news comes two weeks ahead of a visit to China by US Vice President Joe Biden, during which human rights will likely be raised amid a broader crackdown on dissent and freedom of speech and assembly.
Liu, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the Chinese army, was jailed in 2009 for 11 years, on subversion charges for organising a petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule.
He was the organiser of "Charter 08", a manifesto for political reform.
His wife Liu Xia, who has been under effective house arrest since he won the Nobel Prize in 2010, met Liu in October in prison in north-eastern Liaoning province and got his approval for the appeal, prominent human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping told Reuters.
"Whether Liu Xiaobo's viewpoints in his articles are correct or wrong, whether he drafted "Charter 08" and whether those views are wrong or right, this is a citizen's right to freedom of speech and expression," Mr Mo said.
"This is the constitutional right granted to every citizen and does not constitute a crime, so we are requesting that the courts hear this case again and find Liu Xiaobo not guilty."
Liu's imprisonment has drawn the condemnation of Western governments and fellow Nobel Laureates, who have been lobbying for his release.
Mr Mo said his colleague, Shang Baojun, another prominent human rights lawyer, travelled last week to Jinzhou prison, where Liu is jailed, to request a meeting with him.
Prison officials said they could not decide in such an "extremely sensitive" case, and would consult with higher-ranked leaders, Mr Mo said, but he has not heard from authorities.
Prison officials at Jinzhou could not be reached for comment.
Mr Mo said Liu Xia chose to file the appeal at this time because of the treatment suffered by her brother, Liu Hui, whose appeal was rejected in August by a Chinese court that upheld his 11-year sentence on fraud charges. The case is seen as another example of official retribution inflicted on the Liu family.
China has denounced the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, calling it a "political farce" that did not represent the majority of the world, and especially not developing nations.
China called the award an "obscenity" that should not have gone to a man it calls a criminal, and exerted diplomatic pressure on countries not to attend the award ceremony in Oslo.
Liu Xia is rarely allowed out of her home, except for occasional visits to her husband and family, and is almost never permitted visitors. She has not been convicted of any crime.