Liu Xia (劉霞), the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) who had been under de facto house arrest in China, left the country yesterday en route to Germany, according to friends.
Despite facing no charges, the 57-year-old poet had endured heavy restrictions on her movements since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Friends said she was on board a Finnair flight to Helsinki on her way to Berlin, a move that came just days before the first anniversary of her husband’s death from liver cancer.
Berlin-based dissident Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), who was expected to welcome her in the German capital later yesterday, voiced his joy on Twitter, saying: “I am so, so, so happy! Finally, finally, Xia is coming today!!”
Liu had become a cause celebre and was seen as a test case for China’s attitude to human rights, with activists and foreign powers urging Beijing to allow her to leave the country.
Her husband, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, died last year while serving an 11-year jail sentence for “subversion.”
In an emotional telephone call with her friend Liao recently, Liu said: “They should add a line to the constitution: ‘Loving Liu Xiaobo is a serious crime — it’s a life sentence.’”
Speaking to reporters before her departure, close friend Ye Du (野渡) said Liu Xia was suffering from “very severe” depression, adding that she would “sometimes faint” and was taking medicine to sleep.
Another friend who has spoken to her several times said she was in “bad shape, physically and psychologically.”
She was finally given a passport last week, said the friend who did not wish to be named.
Chinese authorities had consistently maintained Liu was free, but imposed severe restrictions on her movement and placed her under constant surveillance.
In May, several foreign diplomats who tried to visit her at her apartment amid concerns over her health were denied access.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said that Liu’s travel to Germany for medical treatment was “of her own free will.”
In Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists celebrated at a memorial to Liu Xiaobo adorned with the couple’s pictures.
“I’m in a sea of joy,” veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄) said.
Liu Xia’s departure comes a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, although a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman denied any “association or link between this incident and the visit.”
Merkel has spoken out frequently on Chinese human rights abuses and is believed to have pushed for Liu’s release during her May visit to Beijing, where she met the wives of detained human rights lawyers.
However, analysts pointed to the forthcoming anniversary of her husband’s death as a reason for the timing.
“Perhaps the Chinese government realized that as the anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death approaches, keeping his widow under house arrest simply shows the Chinese to be petty, cruel and vindictive — not the image it’s trying to project to the world,” Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch said.
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