Nobel Peace Laureate and Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo has died.
Liu was released from prison in late June to receive treatment for liver cancer. He was diagnosed on May 23, after the disease was already far advanced. Authorities did not permit him to travel abroad for better medical treatment.
Liu spent decades pushing for political reform, civil rights protections, and the end of one-party rule in China. He was a primary author of Charter 08, a petition modelled on similar eastern European efforts to carve out political freedoms from Communist states. But he was detained in December 2008, shortly before the charter’s release, and in 2009 was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion, a charge often used to convict dissidents.
The Chinese government under Communist Party rule has a long history of denying adequate medical care to political prisoners, and observers fear that Liu was likewise prevented from receiving treatment until the disease had progressed so far as to make his death certain.
“This is simply a political murder,” said Chinese political activist Hu Jia.
“Chinese authorities carry a heavy responsibility if Liu Xiaobo, because of his imprisonment, has been denied necessary medical treatment,” the Nobel committee wrote in a June statement posted to their website.
Only one other Nobel Peace Prize winner has died in state custody — Carl von Ossietzky, in Nazi Germany in 1938.
Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his work promoting democracy and human rights, but the Chinese government did not permit him or his wife to travel to Oslo to receive the award.
In his stead, Norwegian actress Liv Ullman read the statement he had written upon his sentencing in 2009. Titled “I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement,” it cemented Liu’s status as an iconic democracy activist.
Liu and his wife Liu Xia were torn apart by his detention — authorities permitted written communication but censored the love poems they wrote to each other. Liu Xia herself spent years under virtual house arrest though she was never formally accused of any crime.
Liu Xia was permitted to care for her dying husband during his short stay in the hospital, and photos revealed the mingled joy and sorrow they felt at seeing each other again under circumstances they both knew would be tragically temporary.
“Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window,” he wrote in his 2009 statement. “Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.”
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images