Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, has arrived in Germany after fleeing Beijing, where she spent almost eight years under house arrest.
Liu Xiaobo died of lung cancer last July in a hospital in northeastern China, a month after he was granted medical parole from an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.”
His wife had been under varying degrees of house arrest since his Nobel award in 2010, and had been prevented from leaving the country, even for medical treatment.
She left China on Tuesday for Berlin, her brother Liu Hui said in a message to friends shared with CNN. Images later showed Liu Xia arriving at Helsinki International Airport. She was later seen being whisked away in a van from the runway at Berlin Airport.
“My sister left Beijing midday today. She is flying to Europe to start her life anew,” he said. “I’m grateful for all those who cared about and helped her over the years. I also pray that our parents and my brother-in-law will continue to bless her. I hope her life from now on is filled with peace and happiness.”
At a regular news conference later Tuesday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Liu had left the country to seek medical treatment.
“Liu Xia, according to her own wishes, traveled to Germany for medical treatment. In terms of her leaving country, China’s entry-exit management bureau handled the relevant matter according to law. This issue is not a diplomatic issue,” she said.
Liu Xia’s release came days before the first anniversary of her husband’s death, and a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hua said she could see no link between Liu’s departure and Li’s trip to Germany.
Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said while it was “wonderful news that Liu Xia is finally free,” the harassment of her family “must end, too.”
“Liu Xia never gave up on her wrongfully imprisoned late husband, and for this she was cruelly punished,” Poon said. “The Chinese authorities tried to silence her, but she stood tall for human rights.
“It would be most callous of the Chinese authorities to use Liu Xia’s relatives to put pressure on Liu Xia to prevent her speaking out in the future,” Poon said.
In May, Liu Xia sent out a desperate plea for help, saying there was “nothing in the world for me now.”
‘Easier to die than live’
“It’s easier to die than to live. For me, using death to fight back can’t be any simpler,” she said in a statement posted on Facebook by a longtime friend.
In a seven-minute recording of an April 8 phone call uploaded by Liao Yiwu – a Germany-based dissident – Liu Xia, who friends say has been suffering severe clinical depression for years, could be heard sobbing and crying throughout the audio clip, with periodic outbursts of deep frustration.
“You can record this now: I’m so … angry that I’m ready to die here,” she said. “If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with.”
Speaking after her reported release, Chinese dissident Hu Jia, who was himself imprisoned for a number of years, said for Liu Xia, “who has suffered so much physically and psychologically, freedom is her best medicine.”
Multiple foreign governments had called on Beijing to release Liu Xia, who has never been accused of any crimes.
Last week, a panel of United Nations human rights experts said they were “disturbed by reports of the deteriorating health of Liu Xia. She is reportedly physically restricted at an unknown location and suffers from severe psychological distress.”
“If Ms. Liu is free as she is said to be by the authorities, she should be allowed to peacefully exercise her right to freedom of expression and movement,” they said.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in May that it had been discussing Liu’s case with Beijing and would “continue to do so.”
“Should she choose to come to Germany, Liu Xia would be welcome here at any time,” the ministry said, according to RTHK.
In Berlin, Liu Xia joins a small but influential community of Chinese exiles, including the artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei and dissident writer Liao Yiwu.
“It’s almost surreal,” said Germany-based Chinese artist Badiucao, who recently announced a series of works aimed at drawing attention to Liu Xia’s plight. “It’s amazing that she can finally leave China and seek healing in Berlin, but still a concern that the government keeps her brother in China.”
He added that “how much freedom Liu Xia really has remains a question, but still it’s a time for joy and happiness. I cannot wait to read her new poetry and see her new photos after her freedom.”