China faces the heat after Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo dies in custody

RSTV Bureau
In this file image taken from Jan 6, 2008, video, Liu Xiaobo speaks during an interview in his home in Beijing, China. AP/PTI

In this file image taken from Jan 6, 2008, video, Liu Xiaobo speaks during an interview in his home in Beijing, China. AP/PTI

Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, writer and a human rights activist in China, died on Thursday night after losing a battle with terminal cancer. Liu died in custody under guard in a hospital in Shenyang in China.

61-year-old Liu, a Chinese citizen, succumbed to multiple organ failure, three days after being taken into intensive care at the First Hospital of China Medical University. Less than two months ago, he was transferred to a hospital from prison.

Liu was detained in 2008 after calling for democratic reforms in China and was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion” a year later. He was represented by an empty chair at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in 2010.

Post Liu’s death, China is facing a wave of criticism for not freeing Liu and grant him his final wish to be treated abroad.

China bears a “heavy responsibility” for the death of Liu, the Nobel Committee said on Thursday.

“We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill…The Chinese government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death,” said the Committee.

Germany, US and Taiwan had offered to host Liu but China did not relent, saying that he was not healthy enough to travel abroad. China’s position was contradicted by US and German medical experts invited by the hospital to examine Liu’s condition last weekend. But Liu Yunpeng, the hospital’s head of internal medicine, said on Thursday that the writer’s condition abruptly deteriorated after the foreign doctors requested an assessment to determine if he could travel.

“The danger (of travelling) was extremely great,” doctor Liu said.

Rights groups accused authorities of manipulating information about his health and refusing to let him leave because they were afraid he would use the freedom to denounce China’s one-party Communist regime.

Liu, a staunch government critic, became a symbol of Beijing’s growing crackdown on dissenting voices. International human rights groups, Western governments and local activists had urged authorities to free Liu and grant his final wish to be treated abroad.

“The Chinese government’s arrogance, cruelty, and callousness are shocking – but Liu’s struggle for a rights- respecting, democratic China will live on,” said Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson.

“Tonight we, together with all those concerned with human rights in China, are feeling deep sorrow over Mr Liu Xiaobo’s death,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Liu as a “courageous fighter for human rights”, while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “wrong” China did not allow Liu to travel overseas for treatment.

Germany called him a “hero” of democracy and voiced “regret” that China brushed off its offer to host Liu. But China’s foreign ministry continues to maintain that other countries should not interfere in its internal affairs.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China to free Liu’s widow, who has been under house arrest since 2010.

Liu’s death puts China in dubious company as he became the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1938, who had been held by the Nazis.

Liu was arrested nine years ago after co-writing Charter 08, a bold petition that called for the protection of basic human rights and reform of China’s political system.

During the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, he helped negotiate the safe exit of thousands of student demonstrators on the night of June 3-4, 1989 when the military bloodily suppressed six weeks of protests.

(With inputs from agencies)