Nobel laureate's widow allowed to leave China for Europe

Cheryl Sanders
July 12, 2018

Friends of Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize victor Liu Xiaobo who died in detention last July, say she has boarded a flight to Germany after years of being detained.

"It is wonderful news that Liu Xia is finally free and that her persecution and illegal detention at the hands of the Chinese authorities has come to an end, almost one year since Liu Xiaobo's untimely and undignified death".

China sentenced Liu Xiaobo in December 2009 to 11 years in prison on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he helped write a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalisation.

Liu, a petite, bespectacled poet, was photographed smiling as she entered the terminal in a gray T-shirt under a black and white knit cardigan.

After being allowed to leave China, Liu flew via Helsinki to Berlin, where she arrived just days before the first anniversary of her husband's death from liver cancer.

"[Liu Xia's] forced solitude was an emblem of Chinese cruelty toward a wife whose husband was ripped away from her for the crime of expressing his views, and then-nearly exactly a year ago-allowed to die in prison while denied access to potentially lifesaving medical treatment overseas", PEN America's Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said in a statement on the group's website.

In May, Berlin officials again said that should Liu Xia choose to go to Germany, she would be welcome there.

Chinese authorities put Liu under house arrest in 2010, days after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded her imprisoned husband, Liu Xiaobo, the Peace Prize, infuriating the Chinese government.

While news and information about the couple are strictly censored in mainland China, people in Hong Kong took to Facebook to send their good wishes to Liu Xia.

"Today at around 11:00 am, Liu Xia took a Finnair flight and left Beijing", friend Ye Du said. "I can only do what I have always done, and be patient until the situation changes", said Liu Xia.

Merkel has spoken out frequently on Chinese human rights abuses and is believed to have pushed for Liu's release during her May visit to Beijing, where she met the wives of detained human rights lawyers.

"I want to marry that enemy of the state!" she said shortly before the pair Wednesday in 1996 during Liu Xiaobo's stay at a labour camp, according to a biography of the dissident by Yu Jie.

"Liu Xia has been kept isolated for so many years", Mr Wu said. In a letter published previous year, Liu wrote she was "going mad" in her isolation, according to the AFP news agency.

News of her release came just a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met in Berlin, stressing their shared commitment to free trade in what some observers saw as a message to U.S. President Donald Trump. The U.S. tally of China's political prisoners stood at more than 1,400 in November.

The following year, the writer became China's first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights".

Liu Xia, 57, had gone to "start her new life" in Europe, her younger brother, Liu Hui, said on his WeChat account, according to a screenshot of the message shown to Reuters by a friend who declined to be identified.

China has previously criticized calls by Western governments for Liu's release, saying that foreign countries were making "improper remarks" over what Beijing sees as a domestic affair.

Chinese officials told reporters she was free to do what she wished, but Western diplomats and the press were effectively banned from visiting her. "Dying is easier than living - there is nothing simpler for me than to protest with death".

In the past year since her husband's death, authorities continued to closely guard her home, allowing only a few friends and family members to speak to her on the phone or visit her. Liu Xia is reportedly suffering from severe depression and a range of physical ailments, including a heart condition. He said China's constitution protected human rights.

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