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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Nobel widow heads to Berlin after being freed from house arrest in China

Liu Xia was married to late dissident Liu Xiaobo who was serving a prison sentence for inciting subversion.

Liu Xia has left China for Germany (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
Liu Xia has left China for Germany (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

By Gerry Shih and Yanan Wang, Associated Press

China has allowed the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to be freed from house arrest and leave for Berlin.

The release of Liu Xia, who has never been charged with any crime, is the result of years of campaigning by Western governments and activists and comes just days before the one-year anniversary of the death of dissident Liu Xiaobo while he was serving a prison sentence for inciting subversion.

Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, wrote on a social media site: “Sister has already left Beijing for Europe at noon to start her new life. Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. I hope from now on her life is peaceful and happy.”

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

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is visiting Germany, a country that in May said it would welcome the widow after a recording was released of her crying in desperation and indicating she had lost hope of being able to leave China.

Ms Liu’s close friends Gao Yu, a veteran journalist in Beijing, and Wu Yangwei, better known by his pen name Ye Du, said she was on a Finnair flight to Berlin that left on Tuesday morning. Mr Wu said he spoke to Ms Liu’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.”

Friends say Ms Liu has expressed a preference for going to Germany, where she has a circle of friends from China’s dissident and literary circles.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China and is understood to have raised Ms Liu’s case with Chinese officials, including during a visit in May.

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Liu Xia had been under house arrest (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

When Liu Xiaobo died, German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel urged the Chinese government to let Ms Liu and her brother leave the country for Germany.

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.

Days after the Nobel Committee awarded him the Peace Prize in 2010, infuriating Beijing, Chinese authorities put Ms Liu under house arrest. State security assigned guards around-the-clock outside her Beijing home and restricted her access to the internet and the outside world, allowing her only occasional phone calls with a small circle of friends.

The news of her release was a rare piece of good news for China’s beleaguered community of activists, who have been at the centre of an expansive crackdown on civil society, rights lawyers and other independent groups the administration of President Xi Jinping has deemed a threat to the ruling Communist Party’s grip on power.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, confirmed that Ms Liu had left for Germany, saying she was seeking “medical treatment on her own accord”.

Press Association

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