Chinese dissident, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo dies at 61

His wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest after he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, unable to make or receive phone calls, had no internet, and was only able to leave weekly for groceries or to see her parents.

The 1989 pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, by Liu's account, were the "major turning point" of his life.

He was later freed, and continued to campaign for democracy. He was 61 years old. The Charter 08 called for establishment of the rule of law, introduction of democracy and end to censorship.

In the coming weeks, China will probably try to dispose of Liu's remains in a way that will prevent his grave from becoming a democratic pilgrimage spot.

"China's refusal to honor Liu Xiaobo's last wish to travel overseas for treatment and its decision to hold him incommunicado during his dying days are a cruel epitaph in the tale of a powerful regime's determination to crush a fearless man who dared challenge a government that sustains its rule through suppression and fear", Nossel said.

Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair symbolising the absence of jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo during the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, December 10th, 2010.

The Chinese intellectual and activist is the first Nobel peace prize victor to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, the 1935 recipient, who died under surveillance after years confined to Nazi concentration camps.

In response to calls to allow Liu to leave China, the foreign ministry repeatedly said other countries should not interfere in China's internal affairs, using the same line on Thursday before his death was announced. Instead he died as he had lived, under the close watch of the one-party state.

"He was known then as a rebel, the black horse of the literary scene", says Perry Link, a China scholar at Princeton and the University of California, Riverside who has translated Liu's works into English.

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"My heart breaks for Liu Xia, who was deeply in love with her husband", he said.

Only in a hospital ward in the last days of his life have this suffering couple been reunited, only to be parted again by his death. After the turmoil of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, he became a professor of Chinese literature and studied as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Rights groups and Western governments had urged China to allow Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, to leave the country to be treated overseas, as Liu had said he wanted.

The official media quoted the Jinzhou Prison, where he was kept before moving to hospital, saying that he had hepatitis B before he was imprisoned, and was treated for hepatitis and tumors in 2012, which is three years after he was jailed. But Chinese medical experts insisted that he was too ill to travel.

The Shenyang legal bureau said in a brief statement on its website on Thursday that Liu had suffered multiple organ failure and efforts to save him had failed.

What has the reaction been?

Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad, the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged China to guarantee freedom of movement for Liu Xia.

Thanks to Liu, millions of people in China and across the world have been "inspired" to stand up for freedom and justice in the face of "oppression", he said.


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