(New York) – The Chinese government permitted Liu Xia, the widow of dissident Liu Xiaobo, to board a plane to Germany on the morning of July 10, 2018, nearly a year to the day since her husband’s death, Human Rights Watch said today. The German government negotiated Liu Xia’s release, whose health significantly deteriorated during nearly eight years of house arrest.
“It is a tremendous relief that Liu Xia has been able to leave China for freedom abroad,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Ever since her late husband received the Nobel Peace Prize while in a Chinese prison, Liu Xia was also unjustly detained. The German government deserves credit for its sustained pressure and hard work to gain Liu Xia’s release.”
Liu Xia, 57, an artist, photographer, and poet, was never charged with a crime. However, since October 2010, when Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she had been held arbitrarily under house arrest. Throughout Liu Xiaobo’s hospitalization till his death on July 13, 2017, Liu Xia was prevented from speaking freely to family, friends, or the media.
In the past year since her husband’s death, authorities continued to closely guard her home, allowing only a few friends and family members to speak to her on the phone or visit her. Liu Xia is reportedly suffering from severe depression and a range of physical ailments, including a heart condition. In April, she said to a friend in an emotional phone call, “If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home… It would be easier to die than to live.”
While authorities allowed Liu Xia to leave China, her brother Liu Hui reportedly has remained in China. According to Liu Xia’s friends, Liu Xia had previously hoped she and Liu Hui could be allowed to leave China together. Liu Hui was prosecuted in 2013 on questionable fraud charges, though later released on bail.
The Chinese government has not taken any responsibility for Liu Xiaobo’s death or Liu Xia’s illness. During Liu Xiaobo’s nearly eight years in a Liaoning prison, very little was known about the conditions of his imprisonment. Throughout his hospitalization, authorities closely guarded Liu and only once allowed two independent foreign doctors to have access to Liu a week before his death. After the doctors determined Liu was “fit for travel,” the Chinese government restated its previous position that he was too ill to travel abroad for treatment.
Since President Xi Jinping took office in March 2013, China’s government has tightened its control over society and stepped up its campaign against independent activists, lawyers, and others deemed a threat to the Chinese Communist Party. Authorities have arbitrarily detained countless people for their peaceful work or views. Several human rights defenders have either died in detention or shortly after being released. China’s deteriorating rights record is also being felt beyond its borders as it seeks to undermine international human rights institutions.
Liu Xia’s release and her departure from the country show that sustained international pressure can bring about positive human rights developments in China, Human Rights Watch said. There are important opportunities in the upcoming months, including the European Union-China summit and the Asia-Europe Meeting summit, during which sustained public pressure should focus on other Chinese activists and lawyers wrongfully detained or imprisoned.
“The release of Liu Xia shows that when concerned governments push hard enough, Beijing will back down,” Richardson said. “Pressure is still needed so that Chinese authorities won’t harass Liu Xia’s family members in China.”