Friends bid farewell to Liu Xiaobo as calls grow for wife to be allowed leave

Chinese dissident’s last words to his wife Liu Xia were ‘Live on well’

Calls have been made for Liu Xia, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, to be allowed to leave China following the dissident academic's death from liver cancer.

Friends, human rights defenders and world leaders have continued to pay tribute to Liu, the literature professor and critic who died “peacefully” at 5.35pm on Thursday, surrounded by his wife and his brothers Liu Xiaoguang and Liu Xiaoxuan.

The 61-year-old was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after organising a petition known as “Charter 08”, which urged greater democracy and freedom of expression in China.

Mr Liu’s doctor Teng Yue’e said his final words to his wife, whom he married during a three-year “re-education through labour” stint in a labour camp in Dalian in 1997, were: “Live on well.”


Ms Liu has been under house arrest, without any charge, since October 2010, right after the Nobel Committee announced the Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo. She has suffered from severe depression.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson expressed his condolences, saying Mr Liu died "while serving a lengthy prison sentence in China for promoting peaceful democratic reform".

“I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes,” Mr Tillerson said in a statement.


French president Emmanuel Macron paid homage in a tweet, while Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel described Mr Liu's death as "premature".

There was a perhaps surprising message from Hong Kong's Beijing-backed chief executive Carrie Lam.

"Hong Kong people are always very compassionate and so I share that compassion of many Hong Kong people by sending my condolences to the wife and the family of Mr Liu," Ms Lam told an international media event.

China has reacted angrily to countries that have shown support for Mr Liu, and lodged “stern representations” with countries that made remarks about him.

“The handling of Liu Xiaobo’s case belongs to China’s internal affairs, and foreign countries are in no position to make improper remarks,” the state news agency Xinhua said.

In a harshly critical editorial, the state-backed Global Times accused the West of politicising the plight of a political prisoner.

"The West has bestowed upon Liu a halo, which will not linger. By granting him the Nobel Prize, the West has "kidnapped" Liu. However, the West only puts a halo on those useful to them," said the outlet, which is published by the same group that publishes the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, adding that Mr Liu's political goals were "in opposition to the path of history."

Reacting to Chinese complaints about foreigners impinging on sovereignty, legal scholar Jerome Cohen said China had ratified pacts such as the UN Convention against Torture, and therefore overseas governments had a right to complain.

"Not only should foreign governments condemn China for its violations of human rights that led to Liu Xiaobo's imprisonment and death, but they should also press the Chinese government to give Liu Xia, who has been put under severe illegal house arrest for the past seven years, the option to leave China," Mr Cohen, director of the US-Asia Law Institute at New York University, wrote on his blog.

Forbidden torture

Ms Xia’s case was an example of the Chinese government subjecting to forbidden torture someone who has not even been accused of a crime or even legally detained, he said.

Mr Liu became the second Nobel laureate to die in custody – the first was the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who died in a hospital under the Nazis in 1938 after years in concentration camps.

Supporters have also begun calling to be allowed to join Mr Liu’s funeral and support his wife and family.

In an obituary in the New York Review of Books, the distinguished China scholar Perry Link spoke of his friend's blunt independent spirit and said that as in the cases of Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi, history would judge his gaolers harshly.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing