Jailed Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo dies

News of democracy proponent’s death prompts rage online among rights activists

An impromptu shrine to late Nobel laureate and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo outside China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China, July 13th, 2017. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

China’s best-known democracy activist, the jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, has died aged 61 in hospital after a battle with liver cancer.

Mr Liu was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after organising a petition known as "Charter 08" seeking sweeping political reforms. Soon afterwards he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to China's anger.

The writer and critic was being treated for late-stage liver cancer in First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang in northeastern China. Other than medical staff, only family members were allowed access to the room.

Pro-democracy activists mourn the death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo outside China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China, July 13th, 2017. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

In a brief statement, the Shenyang legal bureau said Mr Liu had suffered multiple organ failure while in the intensive care unit and efforts to save him had failed.


Merkel intervention

Before he died, Germany's Angela Merkel had called for him to be allowed to go overseas on humanitarian grounds, even directly asking President Xi Jinping in person during the G20 meeting in Hamburg last week, but China refused to allow him to leave.

Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair symbolising the absence of jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo during the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, December 10th, 2010. File photograph: Heiko Junge/EPA

Mr Liu becomes the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize to die while in custody since the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who died in 1938 while under surveillance after years in Nazi prison camps.

His death was reported in state media in China. A report in China’s state-run media focused heavily on the medical treatment he received, including care from German and US doctors shortly before he died.

The Nobel Peace Prize certificate awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in December 2010. File photograph: Berit Roald/Scanpix Norway/Reuters

News of Mr Liu's death prompted rage and sorrow online among rights activists and his friends. The artist and activist Ai Weiwei wrote on Twitter: "Liu Xiaobo is gone, rest in peace. We are here, with Xiaobo."

Rights groups said the focus now was to ensure that Mr Liu’s wife Liu Xia, who has been held under house detention since her husband won the Nobel Prize, and his brother Liu Hui are allowed to leave China.

Chinese writer Mo Zhixu said he felt sorrow and anger at the news, comparing the death of students during the crackdown on the democracy movement in 1989 to Mr Liu’s death in a hospital ward 28 years later.

"I feel this regime imprisoned Liu Xiaobo to the last second, didn't give him one single second to enjoy meeting with friends and receive basic human care. This is extremely inhuman, although I don't think it means anything to talk humanity with them," Mr Mo said.

Chinese dissident and civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo in Beijing. Photograph: EPA

Most important social activist

The Freedom for Liu Xiaobo Action Group described Mr Liu as the most important social activist and independent intellectual in contemporary China, and said he was a martyr of the democratic transition movement in China.

"Alas! The passing of Mr Liu Xiaobo causes great grief to our people and our country. The gods withheld their blessings and have taken away one of pureness and sincerity," the group said.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Mr Liu was a "giant of human rights". "For decades, he fought tirelessly to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms in China. He did so in the face of the most relentless and often brutal opposition from the Chinese government," secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

“Time and again they tried to silence him, and time and again they failed. Despite enduring years of persecution, suppression and imprisonment, Liu Xiaobo continued to fight for his convictions,” Mr Shetty said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

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