China has permitted the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to leave the country and go to Berlin.
Liu Xia remained under house arrest for eight years. Her situation drove the artist and poet into depression and resulted in criticism of China’s human rights record.
Liu Xia had never been charged with a crime. Her release comes after years of campaigning by Western governments and activists. It also comes almost one year after the death of dissident Liu Xiaobo. He died while serving a prison sentence for “inciting subversion.”
Liu Xia's brother, Liu Hui, wrote on a social media site: “Sister has already left Beijing for Europe at noon to start her new life. Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. I hope from now on her life is peaceful and happy.”
Lost hope of leaving China
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is currently visiting Germany. In May, the German government said it would welcome Liu after a recording was released of her crying and saying she had lost hope of being able to leave China.
Friends say Liu Xia had expressed an interest in going to Germany, where she has a network of friends among Chinese dissidents. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China. She has discussed Liu Xia's case with Chinese officials. People who know about the issue said Merkel also discussed Liu’s case during a visit in May.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged the Chinese government to let Liu Xia and her brother leave China for Germany after the death of Liu Xiaobo in July of 2017.
China sentenced Liu Xiaobo in December 2009 to 11 years in prison. He was charged with inciting subversion of state power after he helped write a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalization.
Chinese officials put Liu Xia under house arrest days after the Nobel Committee awarded Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize in 2010. Government security guarded her home at all hours and restricted her contact with the internet and foreigners. She was permitted only limited telephone calls with a small group of friends.
A crackdown on activists
Chinese activists have been at the center of a crackdown by the government on groups the government considers a threat to the ruling Communist Party. The last time a famous political prisoner was permitted to leave China was in 2012.
The Chinese government permitted the blind, activist Chen Guangcheng to travel to New York after he escaped from house arrest and hid for six days in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Several people expressed concern about Liu's brother, Liu Hui, who was accused of fraud and sentenced to jail. Supporters said this was done because of the attention Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo received.
“This is fantastic news, something we have all been hoping against hope for a long time,'' said Hu Jia, a family friend and Beijing-based activist. “But we still fear for Liu Hui, who is being kept in the country as a guarantee so that Liu Xia does not speak out abroad.''
The Chinese government has criticized calls by Western governments for Liu's release, saying that foreign countries were making ``improper remarks'' over local issues.
Officials have also insisted that Liu Xia was a free citizen. However, her friends and others trying to visit her have disputed this.
Liu's friends in recent months have said her mental condition has increasingly declined, especially since the death of her husband.
A successful artist and poet, Liu told Associated Press reporters during a visit to her home in 2012 that she had expected China would punish her for her husband's Nobel award. But Liu said she had not expected to be kept under house arrest.
I’m Mario Ritter.
This story was originally reported by Gerry Shih and Tanan Wang for the Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
crackdown – n. serious attempt to punish people for doing something that is not allowed
fraud – n. the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person
manifesto – n. a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group