After China’s Nobel laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo died after losing his battle with terminal cancer, remaining in custody under guard in hospital until his last breath, Beijing faced a wave of criticism over its treatment of the Tiananmen Square protest veteran. He was not allowed to leave the country for treatment for late-stage liver cancer.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is China’s most prominent political prisoner died on Thursday. Several international human rights groups, Western governments and Chinese activists had urged authorities to free Liu and grant his final wish to be treated abroad, which was turned down by Beijing.
Responding to the death, the Nobel Committee said China bears a “heavy responsibility” for the death of Liu. He was transferred to hospital from prison nearly two months ago, but remained under police custody.
Human rights groups and western governments urged China to let Liu and his wife travel out of the country for treatment, over the last week. However, China allowed two cancer specialists — from the US and Germany — to visit him last week. The doctors had said Liu was receiving given good medical care, and could be moved outside the country for better treatment.
In 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of inciting subversion after he helped pen a political manifesto urging the Communist regime to initiate democratic reforms.
In an online announcement, the judicial bureau of the city of Shenyang said he died of multiple organ failure.
The death, according to human rights groups, is as an indication of the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly hard line against its critics.
“We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill,” Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen, said.
Liu’s death puts China in dubious company as he became the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1938, who had been held by Adolph Hilter’s Nazis.
“Hitler was wild and strong and thought he was right but history proved he was wrong in imprisoning a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” an old friend and Liu’s former lawyer Mo Shaoping was quoted saying.
Liu came to prominence following the 1989 pro-democracy protests centred in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, which he called the “major turning point” in his life. He was awarded the Nobel prize in 2010 and was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony in Oslo.
German Chancellor Angel Merkel hailed Liu as a “courageous fighter for human rights”, while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “wrong” China did not allow Liu to travel overseas for treatment.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China to free Liu’s widow, who has been under house arrest since 2010 but was allowed to be at the hospital as he said his final goodbye.
“The Chinese government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death,” The Nobel Committee said.
However, even as Germany called him a “hero” of democracy and voiced “regret” that China brushed off its offer to host Liu, US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron offered praise for China's Xi Jinping at a press conference in Paris, avoiding comment over Liu's death.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” but refrained from criticising China for refusing to allow the Nobel laureate to receive treatment abroad, AFP reported.
The bespectacled writer's death silences a government critic who had been a thorn in the side of the authorities for decades and who became a symbol of Beijing's growing crackdown on dissenting voices”
Liu was detained in 2008 after calling for democratic reforms and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion” a year later.
He was represented by an empty chair at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in 2010. International human rights groups, Western governments and local activists had urged authorities to free Liu and grant his final wish to be treated abroad.
China's foreign ministry repeatedly said other countries should not interfere in its internal affairs, using the same line on Thursday before Liu's death was announced.
“The Chinese government's arrogance, cruelty, and callousness are shocking - but Liu's struggle for a rights- respecting, democratic China will live on,” said Human Rights Watch's China director Sophie Richardson.
Germany had offered to host Liu as recently as Wednesday, calling for a “signal of humanity” from Beijing. The United States and Taiwan were also willing to take him in.
“Tonight we, together with all those concerned with human rights in China, are feeling deep sorrow over Mr Liu Xiaobo's death,” Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said.
Liu's Chinese doctors had said he was not healthy enough to be sent abroad for treatment, a position contradicted by US and German medical experts invited by the hospital to examine Liu's condition last weekend.
But Liu Yunpeng, the hospital's head of internal medicine, said Thursday that the writer's condition abruptly deteriorated after the foreign doctors requested an assessment to determine if he could travel. “The danger (of travelling) was extremely great,” doctor Liu said.
Rights groups accused authorities of manipulating information about his health and refusing to let him leave because they were afraid he would use the freedom to denounce China's one-party Communist regime.
Liu was arrested nine years ago after co-writing Charter 08, a bold petition that called for the protection of basic human rights and reform of China's political system.
During the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, he helped negotiate the safe exit of thousands of student demonstrators on the night of 3-4 June, 1989 when the military bloodily suppressed six weeks of protests.