HONG KONG -- The brother-in-law of Liu Xiaobo, China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner, is likely to face trial soon on fraud charges that a lawyer for the family said on Friday lacked sufficient evidence and that supporters said appeared to be an effort to deter Mr. Liu's wife from defying house arrest.
Mr. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges in late 2009 after helping to organize a petition that urged uprooting one-party rule through a sweeping democratic transformation. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, prompting vehement denunciations from China's Communist Party. Previously, he had been jailed for supporting the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations.
Since Mr. Liu won the prize, his wife, Liu Xia, a shaven-headed artist and writer, has lived under house arrest in an apartment in western Beijing, herself becoming a symbol of China's shackles on dissent, and lately a test of whether the new party leader's vows to respect the law could extend to stopping extrajudicial detention of dissidents. Especially since December, Ms. Liu has attracted a trickle of visitors who have tried to outwit guards and police officers outside her apartment, sometimes successfully.
But the arrest of Liu Xia's younger brother, Liu Hui, appears to be intended to intimidate her and her family and supporters, said Hu Jia, a well-known human rights activist in Beijing, who briefly visited Ms. Liu late last year and has tried several times to see her again.
"Liu Xia has felt under massive pressure," Mr. Hu said. "When I contacted her, she said, 'I'll soon go mad,' and I think one important reason she feels this way is because of her younger brother's arrest, that she sees a cause-and-effect relationship." He recounted a hurried, shouted exchange with her in February, when she spoke from her apartment window.
"One point that is very clear is that they may be using her younger brother to put pressure on her," Mr. Hu said, adding that he did not understand the specific allegations against the brother.
The Associated Press first reported the indictment of Liu Hui. The case involves a complex dispute with a company he once worked for, which accused him and a colleague of taking 3 million renminbi ($483,000), said one of the brother's two lawyers, Mo Shaoping, whose firm also defended Liu Xiaobo.
Liu Hui was first arrested last year, released on bail and rearrested in late January, Mr. Mo said. Ms. Liu was briefly visited by Associated Press reporters in December and later that month by Mr. Hu and four other Chinese rights advocates. Asked about a possible link between the indictment and the visits, Mr. Mo said, "It's up to others to make their own analysis."
He added: "We believe that the evidence is insufficient to justify the charges, and that this should be dealt with as a civil dispute. Liu Hui has denied doing anything wrong."
If Liu Hui is found guilty, he could be imprisoned for 10 years or longer, said Shang Baojun, the second lawyer representing him. Mr. Shang said the lawyers received the indictment from prosecutors in Huairou, a northern district of Beijing, on March 18. "There's been no notification of a trial date yet," Mr. Mo added. "I expect it will be within a month or so."
Phone calls to the procuratorate, or prosecutor's office, in Huairou were not answered on Friday evening, after the report of the indictment came out.
China's judiciary is under firm party control, and rarely finds defendants innocent. The artist Ai Weiwei has maintained that his arrest on tax evasion charges in 2011 was political vengeance for his raucous challenges to party controls.
On March 8, an activist from Hong Kong tried to visit Ms. Liu and was briefly detained by the police, while two Hong Kong news cameramen who tried to record the event were beaten up, prompting widespread criticism in the Hong Kong news media of the Beijing authorities' actions.
"They have become much tougher about keeping people from visiting her," said Mr. Hu, the rights advocate. "There are more police there now, not just guards. She's been warned not to respond to any visits by going to her window or even turning on a light -- nothing to give people any encouragement."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.