UPDATED: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize but was never allowed by angry Chinese authorities to receive it in Oslo, died at a hospital in Shenyang on Thursday. Human Rights Watch quickly claimed that Liu’s death exposes “the Chinese government’s ruthlessness towards peaceful proponents of human rights and democracy.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee also reacted strongly to Liu’s death, claiming that the Chinese government “bears a heavy responsibility” for Liu’s “premature death.”
Liu had been jailed since 2009 for “inciting subversion” because of his involvement with Charter ’08, a political manifesto that called for political reforms in China. He was reportedly diagnosed with liver cancer in May and transferred to hospital in June. His requests to receive cancer treatment abroad had been turned down.
“Even as Liu Xiaobo’s illness worsened, the Chinese government continued to isolate him and his family, and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government’s arrogance, cruelty and callousness are shocking, but Liu’s struggle for a rights-respecting, democratic China will live on.”
Won the Peace Prize for his ‘long and non-violent struggle’
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Liu the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, were allowed to attend the Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo two months later, which is remembered for its “empty chair” between members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Liu’s wife was also later put under house arrest and has endured almost total isolation since 2010. Human Rights Watch called on Chinese authorities to now finally allow her full freedom of movement, also to leave China if she so desires.
Liu Xiaobo had long been a courageously outspoken critic of the Chinese government. The former professor of literature at Beijing Normal University was anything but normal, speaking and writing critiques that challenged mainstream throught in China. Liu was jailed for 21 months after the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square for his role in supporting students who had taken part in peaceful protests against Chinese authorities at the time. He was later sent to a “re-education camp, from 1996 to 1999, for criticizing China’s policies towards Taiwan and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. He did not survive his last 11-year jail term handed down in 2009.
Human Rights Watch wrote on Thursday that “very little is known about the conditions of Liu’s imprisonment” the past eight years. His closest family members were allowed some visits but they were silenced by his wife’s house arrest, other alleged threats and intimidation, according to Human Rights Watch. When Liu was finally transferred from prison to the hospital, his liver cancer was said to be “late-stage,” implying that he’d been kept in prison during its earlier stages. Human Rights Watch is now calling for an investigation into Liu’s treatment and the circumstances and causes of his death.
Peace Prize set off diplomatic freeze
Liu’s Peace Prize in 2010 infuriated and embarrassed the Chinese government, and set off a six-year diplomatic freeze between China and Norway. Chinese authorities blamed the Norwegian government for their embarrassment, even though the Norwegian government has no say in Peace Prize choices. Since the terms of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will call for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to reflect the make-up of the freely elected Norwegian Parliament, Chinese authorities dismissed Norwegian authorities’ insistence that the Nobel Committee acted on its own. So angry were the Chinese that they also tried to intimidate ambassadors from other countries based in Oslo into staying away from the Peace Prize ceremony. In letters sent to embassies in Oslo, ambassadors were warned that there would be “consequences” if they showed up in Oslo’s City Hall or showed support for Liu. The warnings were largely ignored and the Peace Prize ceremony was packed as usual.
Norway’s current Conservatives-led government finally ended the diplomatic freeze with China last December, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg led a delegation to China in April. Solberg’s government has since been strongly criticized in Norway, however, for failing to bring up either Liu Xiaobo’s situation or human rights issues in general, for fear of alienating the Chinese once again. The Norwegian government also refused to join the US snd EU in calling for Liu to be allowed to seek cancer treatment abroad, and only issued a brief statement that they were sorry to hear he was ill.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg did issue a new statement late Thursday afternoon: “It is with great sorrow that I have today receved the news about Liu Xiaobo’s death. Liu Xiaobo was for several decades a central voice for human rights and China’s ongoing development. My thoughts now go to his wife, Liu Xia, and his family and friends.”
Strong reaction from Norwegian Nobel Committee
Berit Reiss-Andersen, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, also said the committee received news of Liu’s death with “regret and great sadness,” but her reaction did not stop there.
“In our view he had not committed any criminal act, but merely exercised his citizen’s rights,” Andersen said in a statement on behalf of the Norwegian Nobel Committee released Thursday afternoon. “His trial and imprisonment were unjust.”
Andersen said the committee found 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 heavy responsibility for his premature death.”
Andersen also added to the criticism of Norwegian officials and others: “The news of Liu Xiaobo’s serious condition was met in part with silence and belated, hesitant reactions worldwide. Eventually the governments of France, Germany and the US called for his unconditional release, as did the EU through its foreign policy spokesperson. 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.”