Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died last Thursday (13 July) in prison. He was a co-author of Charter ’08 – a manifesto calling for the elimination of one-party rule in China – adopting name and style from the anti-Soviet Charter 77 issued by dissidents in former Czechoslovakia.
He was the renegade Chinese intellectual and a prominent figure of the 1989 events at the Tiananmen Square promoting democracy and human rights. His authorship of Charter ’08 brought him a lengthy prison sentence that eventually led to his death under guard at the age of 61. He is the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to have died in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, the German pacifist, who won the award in 1935 and died of maltreatment three years later.
Liu Xiaboo had had cancer but the Chinese government revealed that he had suffered from the illness after it was beyond treatment. His wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest and smothering surveillance, was prevented from speaking about her husband’s condition but in a brief video conference with a friend she said: “Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy”.
The European Union leaders have expressed their most sincere condolences and respect to Liu Xiaobo’s wife Ms. Liu Xia, his family and friends. The EU leaders also appealed to the Chinese authorities to allow Ms. Liu Xia and his family to bury Liu Xiaobo at a place and in a manner of their choosing and to allow them to grieve in peace. They also called on Beijing to allow Ms. Liu Xia and her brother Mr. Liu Hui to leave China if they wish to do so.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday that “the human rights movement in China and across the world has lost a principled champion who devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs.”