Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's health deteriorates

Fears about the health of China's cancer-stricken Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo rose on Thursday as the hospital treating him said the liver function of the country's most prominent democracy advocate had deteriorated.

Friends voiced concerns that Liu, 61, is now near death after it emerged last month that he had been transferred from prison to a hospital due to terminal liver cancer.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for "subversion" after calling for democratic reform. He was awarded the Nobel in 2010, with an empty chair representing him at the ceremony in Oslo.

Beijing has come under fire from human rights groups over its treatment of Liu and for waiting until he became so ill to take him out of prison.

China has faced calls to let Liu get treatment abroad. Earlier this week, authorities said the hospital had invited US and German cancer experts to come to the country to help treat Liu at the family's request.

- 'Near death' -

China Medical University No 1 Hospital, located in the northeastern city of Shenyang, said on its website that Liu's liver function "has deteriorated" and it suspects that he has a blood clot in a calf muscle.

A team of doctors led by a reputed liver cancer specialist "informed Liu's family of the latest development and Liu's family said they understood", the hospital said.

Friends of Liu Xiaobo and his wife, the poet Liu Xia, released an open letter requesting to be allowed to visit him on a "humanitarian basis".

"We were surprised to hear today that Liu Xiaobo's medical condition has worsened," says the letter signed by 44 scholars, writers and activists.

"We feel this is deeply tragic and realise that Liu Xiaobo has few days left and fear he is near death," it says.

"At this moment, we urgently need to go to visit him to bring to Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia their friends' care and well wishes."

Liu's treatment has put a spotlight on China's most recent crackdown on activists, which has intensified since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013.

"All this is suggesting that he seems to be in his last days now," Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon, who has spoken to friends of Liu, told AFP.

Describing the Chinese government's treatment of Liu as "inhuman", Poon said Liu had "less and less hope of receiving better medical treatment".

"The Chinese government wants him to die in China," he said.