Following the death of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, his friends and supporters have expressed concern over the current whereabouts of his wife, poet Liu Xia. Ms. Liu has been under house arrest and intensive surveillance since her husband was awarded the Nobel in 2010. After his transfer to a hospital in June following a diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer, she was able to stay with him there until his death on July 13 and the government has reported that she attended his cremation ceremony on Saturday. However, none of their friends have been in contact with her, and human rights groups and political leaders around the world are calling on the Chinese government to release her and to permit her to travel abroad, a wish she had expressed during her husband's final days.
Early Saturday, the government announced that Liu Xiaobo had been cremated that morning in a small ceremony attended by his wife. However, friends of the couple have not been in touch with her and were told not to travel to Shenyang. From Tom Phillips at the Guardian:
Speaking at a press conference in the city of Shenyang, where Liu died, a government spokesman said his cremation had taken place at a local funeral parlour following a “short mourning service” held at about 6.30am on Saturday.
“Liu’s body was cremated … in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs,” China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said in a brief dispatch.
The spokesman claimed the “private” ceremony had been attended by family and “good friends” of the dissident – although friends and supporters have claimed they were ordered not to travel to Shenyang by Chinese security services.
The spokesman told reporters Liu’s wife, the poet and photographer Liu Xia, had been in attendance and had been given her husband’s ashes. [Source]
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) July 15, 2017
Continuing his series of portraits honoring Liu, cartoonist Badiucao depicts the close bond between the husband and wife as she bids him farewell:
The couple's close relationship has been the subject of several profiles in recent days. Both poets, the two Lius had been frequent subjects of each other's work. Liu Xiaobo had been writing a preface for a book of photographs of him taken by his wife while he was in hospital. From Chris Buckley at The New York Times:
But his last known writing shows how Mr. Liu, whose fame began in the 1980s as a quarrelsome literary academic, remained an artistic soul who drew inspiration from Ms. Liu and feared for her future. She has lived under constant police watch since Mr. Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize.
[...] “Love as intense as ice, love as remote as blackness,” reads one of the handwritten notes Mr. Liu wrote in a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang before he died of liver cancer on Thursday. “My praise is perhaps an unforgivable poison,” he wrote in the brief and sometimes fragmentary tribute to his wife and her art.
Mr. Liu’s notes were for the preface of an unpublished collection of his wife’s photographs provisionally titled “Accompanying Liu Xiaobo.” His notes and the photo collection were shared by a Chinese editor who was a friend of the couple and who had helped compile the book. The editor said Mr. Liu had made contact late last month and that people close to Mr. Liu later passed on pictures of his notes from the hospital. The editor asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of repercussions.
[...] “Liu Xia’s photographs and Liu Xiaobo’s poems struggle with shared demons,” Perry Link, a professor of Chinese at the University of California, Riverside, wrote in his introduction for the unpublished selection of Ms. Liu’s work, which he agreed to share. “The two artists look, feel and worry side by side.” [Source]
Friends have expressed concern that Liu, who has suffered from ill health and depression during her husband's incarceration, is in danger if police do not ease up on the surveillance and restrictions over her movements now that her husband has passed away. They are asking that she be allowed to travel abroad and calling on foreign governments to intervene. Tom Phillips reports for the Guardian:
Liu Xia has never been accused, let alone convicted of any crime. But because of her husband’s activism, she has been forced to live under constant surveillance and in almost total isolation at their Beijing home. Her physical and psychological condition is said to have deteriorated dramatically during this time.
[...] However, within minutes of Liu Xiaobo’s death there were already signs the Communist party might be attempting to silence Liu Xia. Mo Zhixu, a Chinese activist and writer, said he had been unable to make contact with her or establish her whereabouts following her husband’s death. “I am extremely worried about Liu Xia’s condition,” he said.
Activists have expressed anger and frustration at the muted nature of international calls for the couple’s freedom. In a statement, the Nobel committee said most governments had responded to the news that Liu had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wanted to leave China “with silence and belated, hesitant reactions”.
“It is a sad and disturbing fact that the representatives of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, are less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others,” it said. [Source]
In a blog post, China law scholar Jerome Cohen writes that the government's treatment of Liu Xia is illegal:
The case of Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Ms. Liu Xia, is an obvious example of the PRC subjecting to forbidden torture someone who has not even been accused of a crime or even legally detained. As to her husband, we don’t know the facts of his final imprisonment and the extent to which he was denied adequate medical treatment but it is widely suspected that the authorities at least demonstrated indifference to his increasingly dangerous medical condition and that its mistreatment of Liu Xiaobo could well be deemed a violation of the Convention against Torture.
[...] Not only should foreign governments condemn China for its violations of human rights that led to Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment and death, but they should also press the Chinese government to give Liu Xia, who has been put under severe illegal house arrest for the past seven years, the option to leave China. If she chooses to remain in China, the Chinese government should, in accordance with its international human rights obligations, immediately lift all the oppressive conditions that she has suffered.
However, the chance that Liu Xia will be allowed to leave China or have genuine freedom at home in the near future may be slim. The Chinese regime was obviously extremely reluctant to release Liu Xiabo, whether at home or abroad, because of understandable fear of what he would choose as his final words. At home, if he had been allowed to leave the hospital, he would have been kept under strict guard to prevent media contacts, as so many other human rights victims currently are. This is what I call “Non-release ‘release’”. Release abroad would have permitted him to indict the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship before the world, unless the Party insisted on keeping Liu Xia and her brother as hostages.
Liu's friends are not accepting the government explanation that she just wants "to be left alone." From Mimi Lau at the South China Morning Post:
But state media said Liu Xia was “a free person” who just wished to be left alone.
Close friends said they were worried for her well-being, with reports that she had already lost both parents in the last year and had suffered from depression and a heart condition.
“I have heard nothing from her. I’m very worried about her. She is a fragile woman, I fear she might have been driven mad,” said a close friend who refused to be named because she was visited by security agent yesterday.
Another friend, Zhang Huanping, said she had also not heard from her. “Xiami, your pain, persecution, loneliness and helplessness go without saying,” Zhang tweeted, referring to Liu Xia by her nickname. [Source]
Her younger brother, Liu Hui, is also in prison on fraud charges in what some believe may be retaliation for Liu Xiaobo's activism.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement calling for Liu to be allowed to travel abroad. Amnesty International has launched an international petition calling on the Chinese government to release Liu from house arrest.