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Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo dies of cancer days after release from jail

Liu, 61, a university professor and author-turned-human rights, was a key leader of the pro-democracy Tiananmen movement and was repeatedly jailed through his life. He is said to have died in a hospital in northeastern China.

world Updated: Jul 13, 2017 22:04 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo,Tiananmen Square,pro-democracy activist
Liu Xiaobo during an interview at a park in Beijing on July 24, 2008.(AP)

Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, China’s most well-known political dissident, died on Thursday days after he was abruptly released from detention following the revelation that he was suffering from terminal liver cancer.

Liu was a key leader of the pro-democracy Tiananmen movement that left an unknown number of Chinese, mostly students, dead. He was repeatedly jailed through his life.

The university professor and author-turned-human rights and pro-democracy activist was 61 and is said to have died in a hospital in northeastern China. State media announced his death late on Thursday.

Liu’s wife Liu Xia, a poet, too was kept under house arrest for several years.

His critical writings and opinions in the 1980s culminated with his participation in the Tiananmen Square movement.

In 2009, Liu was charged with subversion and jailed after he called for greater democracy and political freedom in China.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 but wasn’t allowed to travel to Oslo, Norway, to collect the award. Furious that Liu had been given the prize, China all but downgraded diplomatic ties with Norway.

Pro-democracy activists mourn the death of Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo outside China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong on July 13, 2017. ( Reuters )

Twittter exploded after news of Liu’s death was released officially, with a barrage of updates about his life and legacy being exchanged online.

China, which has about 700 million people with access to the internet and the world’s largest number of social media users, kept things silent – not a single word on Liu was allowed to slip through the censors.

Twitter-like Weibo, China’s own Google, Baidu, and the very popular WeChat, a mobile phone app like WhatsApp, were kept completely clean of any mention of Liu’s death.

Many Chinese citizens, however, found a way to share condolences in an indirect manner without using his name.

No official reason was given at the time of his recent release but it is possible that Liu was freed from custody by Chinese authorities because of his deteriorating health and because they didn’t want him to die under their watch.

Even his release was marked by controversy over his medical treatment. It was reported that Liu wanted to go abroad for treatment.

Two western doctors allowed by the Chinese government to visit Liu said earlier this week he could travel abroad for treatment if permitted by authorities.

“Liu Xiaobo and his family have requested that the remainder of his care be provided in Germany or the United States,” Joseph M Herman of the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center and Markus Büchler of the University of Heidelberg said in a joint statement.

“While a degree of risk always exists in the movement of any patient, both physicians believe Mr Liu can be safely transported with appropriate medical evacuation care and support. However, the medical evacuation would have to take place as quickly as possible,” they added.

A member of the Australian Tibetan community holds a placard during a candlelight vigil for the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney on July 12, 2017. ( Reuters )

But Chinese doctors said he was too ill to travel. The government dismissed demands for his travel abroad by saying that countries were trying to infringe on China’s sovereignty and judicial system.

In a statement on Liu’s death, rights group Amnesty International said: “Today we grieve the loss of a giant of human rights. Liu Xiaobo was a man of fierce intellect, principle, wit and above all humanity.”

It added: “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. 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.”

First Published: Jul 13, 2017 22:04 IST