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Four men and a laureate

world Updated: Oct 09, 2010 00:31 IST
Nobel committee

Friday morning, hours before the Nobel committee announced the recipient of this year's peace prize, Liu Xiaobo awoke in a prison bunk in China.

Václav Havel and Desmond Tutu have campaigned for Liu Xiaobo to receive the award for his "unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform"; Beijing has warned the committee not to. Meanwhile, China's most prominent dissident knows nothing of the dispute.

While the Nobel has turned the spotlight on Liu's incarceration, little has been known about his life in jail until now.

Since May, he has been held in Jinzhou, Liaoning province in north-east China where he shares a cell with five other men. They sleep in bunk beds and have a separate eating space and bathroom in an area that altogether measures around 30 sq metres.

Each morning and evening he is allowed out for an hour's exercise.

"Now he finally gets to see the sun," said his wife, Liu Xia, adding that he seemed in good spirits when she visited last month.

After six months in solitary confinement following his initial detention, the company is welcome, she suggested.

Though serious, Liu is not austere. He loves food, especially meat, and developed a passion for foie gras.

These days his diet is monotonous and mostly vegetarian. The inmates rise at 6 am for a breakfast of plain rice; for lunch and dinner they sometimes have steamed buns and vegetables. He can buy salted eggs and sausages from a prison store, with money Liu Xia sends him.

Asked if he missed anything in particular, his wife smiled: "He just misses us," she said.

Liu has to wear the standard grey and white prison uniform.

He writes to Liu Xia every few days, often late at night when he cannot sleep, and their relationship has been his greatest support. In the extraordinary statement he submitted during his trial he wrote: "Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm."