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Politics

Liu Xiaobo case shows China's growing ability to deflect pressure

Nobel laureate, dead at 61, was a beacon of the democracy movement

In this screenshot, Liu Xiaobo was interviewed by AP Video at home in Beijing in January 2008.   © AP Video via AP

BEIJING/HONG KONG -- Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese pro-democracy activist awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, died on Thursday at a hospital in the northeastern province of Liaoning. He was 61.

After being diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May, Liu who was serving an 11-year jail term was granted medical parole but not allowed to leave the country. He and his wife Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest for nearly seven years, had repeatedly appealed to Beijing to allow him to seek treatment abroad in his final days.

Those pleas were supported by governments and human rights organizations around the world, with German and U.S. hospitals offering to treat him immediately. However, the Chinese government refused on grounds that Liu was a criminal. Beijing also reiterated that its handling of Liu was purely an internal affair in which no foreign government and institution could interfere. In a way, it was right: There was little the international community could do to sway a China emboldened by its economic ascent.

The legal bureau of Shenyang, where Liu was treated at First Hospital of China Medical University, announced his passing. Liu was a writer, poet and literary critic.

Along with activists Hou Dejian, Gao Xin and Zhou Tuo, Liu was dubbed a junzi, or gentleman, for his life-saving role in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. As the military was set to enter the square on June 4 after days of a pro-democracy sit-in and hunger strike led by students, Liu urged protesters to leave before they were targeted. Troops including tanks subsequently took the square by force. It is unclear how many were killed by the military but estimates ranged from scores to thousands.

In the aftermath, many activists fled China but Liu stayed. He served prison terms and was subjected to heavy surveillance even when he was not behind bars.

In late 2008, he masterminded and co-authored a political manifesto "Charter 08," calling for rule of law, an independent judiciary, respect for human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China, among other reforms.

He was again detained at the end of 2008. On Christmas Day 2009, the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court sentenced him to 11 years in jail, in addition to two years without political rights for inciting subversion of the state.

Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," becoming the first Chinese citizen who lived on the mainland to be given the accolade.

But his prize was never collected. It marked the second time that a winner was unrepresented at the Oslo ceremony since German journalist Carl von Ossietzky was banned by the Nazi regime in 1936.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement on June 27 that Liu "was, essentially, convicted for exercising his freedom of speech and should never have been sentenced to jail in the first place." The committee extended a "standing invitation" to Liu to collect his prize.

Liu leaves behind his wife and a son, Liu Tao, from a previous marriage.

 

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