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"It seems to be very serious, very serious", said Shang Baojun, Liu's lawyer, according to the New York Times. The crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement led to new rounds of repression.

"It adds insult to injury that Liu Xiaobo, who should never have been put in prison in the first place, has been diagnosed with a grave illness".

Chinese poet and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2008, has been released to a hospital. He had been serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" in nearby Jinzhou.

The award prompted Beijing to summon the Norweigan ambassador and submit a formal complaint against the committee's decision, saying that choosing Liu as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize "runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a desecration of the Peace Prize".

It is unclear if Liu Xia, who reportedly suffers from depression due to her isolation, knows that her husband has terminal cancer or if she will be permitted to see him while he's receiving treatment.

In December 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism promoting human rights in China, causing China to freeze diplomatic ties with Norway.

Hu Jia, a fellow activist, said that the family wanted Liu to be treated in Beijing, where hospitals are better, or overseas, but that Chinese authorities had other plans, possibly fearing unrest ahead of big political meetings scheduled for the fall.

It also called on China to show greater tolerance toward Chinese people who use peaceful means to call for political reform and democratic development, instead of violating their basic human rights with threats of indiscriminate lawsuits and heavy sentences.

In 1996 Mr Liu was sentenced to three years in a camp for "re-education through labour", having campaigned for the release of those imprisoned for their roles in Tiananmen Square.

A spokeswoman for the USA embassy in Beijing said they were "working to gather more information" about Liu's legal and medical status. It said the China Medical University No. 1 Affiliated Hospital in Shenyang formed a team of eight nationally known experts in the field of tumors that drew up a treatment plan for Liu.

As a leading member of the Independent China Pen Centre, a grouping of Chinese writers, Liu had remained in close contact with key intellectuals and had been largely free to attend meetings and writer group activities despite constant police surveillance.

At Liu Xia's apartment building in Beijing, AP journalists were accosted Monday by half a dozen plainclothes and other security officers and physically blocked from going beyond the first floor.

Rubio said in his statement: "While we are pleased Liu is no longer behind bars, this is hardly an act of mercy on the part of the Chinese government".

Rights group Amnesty International also confirmed the news of Liu's illness.

"Of course, if [Liu] didn't receive adequate treatment for hepatitis B while he was in prison, or if he had a poor diet and too much physical labor, this could have brought about the cirrhosis of the liver, which would then develop into liver cancer", Choi said.

"I think there will be a big reaction in the democracy movement", Mr. Liang said.