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Widow of Nobel dissident allowed to leave China

Updated July 11, 2018

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Liu Xia gets into a car after she arrives at Tegel airport in Berlin on Tuesday.—AFP
Liu Xia gets into a car after she arrives at Tegel airport in Berlin on Tuesday.—AFP

BERLIN: Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo, arrived in Germany on Tuesday after she was released from years of de facto house arrest in China.

Despite facing no charges, the 57-year-old poet had endured heavy restrictions on her movements since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that infuriated Beijing.

After being allowed to leave Beijing, Liu flew via Helsinki to Berlin, where she arrived just days before the first anniversary of her husband’s death from liver cancer.

Berlin-based dissident Liao Yiwu and German Nobel laureate Herta Mueller were among a dozen people waiting to greet her at Berlin Tegel airport, shouting out her name from the viewing terrace as she emerged from the aircraft.

But Liu immediately boarded a black van parked on the airfield tarmac and was whisked away without making any remarks.

Liu had become a cause celebre and was seen as a test case for China’s attitude to human rights, with activists and foreign powers urging Beijing to allow her to leave the country.

Her husband Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, died last year while serving an 11-year jail sentence for “subversion”, the first Nobel laureate to die in custody since the Nazi era.

Close friend Ye Du, speaking to AFP before Liu’s departure, said Liu was suffering from “very severe” depression, adding she would “sometimes faint” and was taking medicine to sleep.

She was finally given a passport last week, said this friend, who did not wish to be named.

Chinese authorities had consistently maintained Liu was free but imposed severe restrictions on her movement and kept her under constant surveillance.

In May, several foreign diplomats who tried to visit her at her apartment amid concerns over her health were denied access.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said Liu’s travel to Germany for medical treatment was “of her own free will”.

Patrick Poon from Amnesty International said it was “really wonderful” that Liu was finally allowed to leave. But he voiced concern for her brother Liu Hui who remains in China and said she “might not be able to speak much for fear of her brother’s safety”.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018