Thursday 18 October 2018

China lets Nobel widow leave for Berlin after house arrest

Liu Xia was never charged with any crime.

Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo (Jussi Nukari/ Lehtikuva via AP)
Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo (Jussi Nukari/ Lehtikuva via AP)

By Gerry Shih and Kirstem Grieshaber, Associated Press

Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, has arrived in Germany after being freed from house arrest after eight years.

She landed at Berlin’s Tegel airport and was taken away by car soon after she got off the plane.

Ms Liu was placed under house arrest in 2010 after her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

During an earlier stopover in Helsinki, Finland, she was seen spreading her arms and grinning widely.

The release of Liu Xia, who was never charged with any crime, results from years of campaigning by Western governments and activists and comes before the one-year anniversary on Friday of Liu Xiaobo’s death.

Liu’s 11-year prison sentence and his wife’s subsequent detention in her home had become glaring symbols of the authoritarian government’s determination to prevent the couple from becoming an inspiration to other Chinese.

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Liu Xia after her release (Jussi Nukari/ Lehtikuva via AP)

Liu Xia’s release comes as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is visiting Germany, a country that has urged Beijing to free her.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China and has raised Liu Xia’s case with Chinese officials, including during a visit in May, people familiar with the matter said.

Ms Liu’s close friends Gao Yu, a veteran journalist in Beijing, and Wu Yangwei, better known by his pen name Ye Du, said Liu Xia took a Finnair flight to Berlin on Tuesday morning.

Mr Wu said he spoke to Liu Xia’s older brother, Liu Tong.

“Liu Xia has been kept isolated for so many years,” Mr Wu said.

“I hope that being in a free country will allow Liu Xia to heal her long-standing traumas and wounds.”

The Chinese government confirmed earlier that Ms Liu had left China for Germany, saying she is seeking medical treatment.

Liu Xia is an accomplished artist and poet who reluctantly followed her husband into politics two decades ago.

In 2009, China sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on a charge of inciting subversion after he helped write Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalisation.

Liu was awarded the Nobel prize on October 8 2010.

As soon as Liu Xia returned home from visiting her husband in prison that month, she was confined in her fifth-floor apartment in Beijing and denied access to a phone and the internet.

Ms Liu’s release was rare good news for China’s beleaguered community of activists, who have been the focus of an expansive crackdown on civil society, rights lawyers and other independent groups that the administration of President Xi Jinping deems a threat to the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power.

The last time China let a high-profile political prisoner leave was in 2012, when blind activist Chen Guangcheng was allowed to fly to New York after escaping from house arrest and hiding for six days in the US embassy in Beijing.

Authorities are still holding Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, who was convicted of fraud and imprisoned in a case supporters say was in retaliation against the attention given the Nobel laureate.

Press Association

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