Mo Shaoping, another lawyer who has represented Mr. Liu, said that “in principle” Mr. Liu could receive visits from family members but that he was uncertain whether Ms. Liu was with him.
The news of Mr. Liu’s condition also creates a potential worry for President Xi Jinping, who is focused on a congress in autumn that is all but sure to appoint him for a second term as Communist Party leader and promote a new generation of senior officials.
In his first five years in power, Mr. Xi has pursued an intense crackdown on dissent. But even in hospital confinement, Mr. Liu could serve as a new rallying point for China’s beleaguered human rights activists, angered that his cancer was not detected until it was seemingly too late to save him.
Mr. Shang said that he had not heard whether the Chinese authorities had officially granted Mr. Liu medical parole or whether his release was more informal.
But Mr. Mo said he was certain that Mr. Liu had been given medical parole. “Otherwise it would be legally impossible for him to leave the prison for medical care,” he said by telephone. “You need medical parole for that.”
Repeated calls to the No. 1 Hospital of the China Medical University in Shenyang, where the lawyers said Mr. Liu was staying, went unanswered or encountered a busy signal.
Mr. Liu, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University, was a prominent figure during the student-led protests that swept Beijing and other Chinese cities in 1989. He was famous for fiery speeches to large groups and helped start a hunger strike days before the protest in Tiananmen Square was crushed by the military. He negotiated a peaceful retreat from the square, which is credited with saving many lives.
After the crackdown, Mr. Liu was jailed for 21 months, the first of several prison terms he served for his pro-democracy organizing.
In 2008, he helped write a petition calling for widespread political liberalization in China. That document, Charter 08, was initially signed by hundreds of scholars and activists. The police arrested Mr. Liu, and a year later, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what the committee called “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
Mr. Liu was represented at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo by an empty chair. He was the first Nobel Peace Prize recipient to not attend the ceremony or be represented by family since the 1935 prize, when Hitler barred the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was being held in a concentration camp, and his supporters from accepting the award. Mr. von Ossietzky, whose health had degraded after years of abuse in detention, died in 1938 of tuberculosis.
In Mr. Liu’s absence, his statement from his 2009 trial, titled “I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement,” was read as his Nobel lecture.
“Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience,” he wrote. “Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation’s development and social change, to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost good will, and to dispel hatred with love.”
The Chinese government was likely to censor information about Mr. Liu’s illness to ensure that it does not cause wider political ripples, said Liang Xiaojun, a human rights lawyer in Beijing. No reports about Mr. Liu’s cancer and hospitalization appeared in the state-run news media, and many Chinese, especially younger people, have little or no understanding of Mr. Liu and his role in the 1989 protests.
“I think there will be a big reaction in the democracy movement,” Mr. Liang said. “But the government will probably shut down news about this, or dilute it, so it won’t have too much impact domestically.”
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