BEIJING — China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was briefly allowed out of prison last month after his father died, his brother told AFP Tuesday, in an unusual break in the dissident's 11-year term.
Liu Xiaoxuan said he had also been able to visit his 55-year-old brother in jail last week, and the inmate's wife Liu Xia, who has effectively been under house arrest since the prize announcement last October, visited in August.
The news is the first to have emerged in almost a year from the prison in China's northeast where the dissident writer is being held, and comes just three days before the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner is announced in Oslo.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee sparked fury in Beijing last year when it honoured the former university professor with the peace prize for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China".
The award turned Liu -- who until then had been little known abroad -- into a global cause celebre as Western nations and rights groups lined up to call for his release.
But the first time many people in China heard of Liu Xiaobo was when Beijing publicly denounced the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to him as "political theatre" and tantamount to encouraging crime.
Liu Xiaoxuan said his elder brother "was sent back home on September 18" to mark the seventh day after his father's death -- an important day in Chinese culture when families gather to remember the person who died.
The Chinese often hold a person's funeral three days after their death and normally hold a smaller memorial service on the seventh day.
It was unclear whether Liu Xiaobo attended a family gathering or was only allowed to pay his respects on his own during the brief visit.
Liu Xiaoxuan said that only one brother in the family -- Liu Xiaoguang -- had been able to accompany the dissident writer on his trip out of prison, adding he had not seen him then and nor had his other brother.
"It's not convenient for me to tell you about details of how long Liu Xiaobo stayed at home or what he did," Liu Xiaoxuan said.
But he said he had been able to see his elder brother last Wednesday, when he paid him a visit in prison along with his two other siblings, adding the jailed writer "was looking very well."
He was reluctant to give any more details. Calls to police in Liaoning province's Jinzhou city -- where Liu is being held -- and China's Ministry of Public Security went unanswered.
Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in jail in December 2009 for "subversion" after co-authoring Charter 08, a bold petition calling for political reform in one-party Communist-ruled China.
He is one of only three people to win the Peace Prize while in prison, after 1991 laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was in a Nazi jail when he won in 1935.
His award triggered a crackdown on dissent by Beijing, which further intensified in February after anonymous calls for Arab-style protests in China emerged on the Internet.
Many leading activists and rights lawyers disappeared into custody, including prominent artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained in April for nearly three months.
China's parliament is currently considering amendments to the criminal code that would allow police to secretly detain suspects for up to six months without charges and without notifying their families.
The news of Liu's trip comes as the Nobel Committee prepares to announce the winner of the 2011 peace prize in Oslo on Friday, amid speculation cyber activists from North Africa are front runners after the Arab Spring uprisings.
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