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China under pressure to free dissident's widow

China faced international calls to free the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo after global condemnation over its refusal allow the democracy champion's to leave the country

14 July 2017, 8:17am
Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, looks out of a car window after a trial outside a court in the Huairou district of Beijing in June 2013
Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, looks out of a car window after a trial outside a court in the Huairou district of Beijing in June 2013
China faced international calls on Friday to free the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo after global condemnation over the Communist regime's refusal to grant the democracy champion's dying wish to leave the country.

The United States and the European Union urged President Xi Jinping's government to let Liu's widow, the poet Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010, leave the country.

Friends of China's Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of liver cancer in custody, said on Friday they are still unable to contact his widow, Liu Xia, and that ensuring her freedom is now a top priority.

Liu Xiaobo, 61, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after he helped write a petition known as "Charter 08" calling for sweeping political reforms.

Liu Xia has been under effective house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and was allowed to visit him in prison about once a month. She suffers from depression.

Liu Xiaobo died on Thursday after suffering multiple organ failure. He was recently moved from jail to a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang to be treated for late-stage liver cancer.

Chinese doctors said Liu Xia was by her husband's side when he lost his battle.

Liu's main doctor said he was able to say goodbye to his 56-year-old wife and in his final moments told her to "live well".

But authorities have restricted her contact with the outside world and her whereabouts were unknown following the death of her husband, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests whose advocacy for democratic reform infuriated the government.

"I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

The EU urged Beijing to let Liu Xia and her family bury the dead democracy campaigner "at a place and in a manner of their choosing, and to allow them to grieve in peace".

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also urged China to guarantee Liu Xia freedom of movement, and allow her to travel abroad should she want to.

China, however, said the case remained an internal matter.

"The handling of Liu Xiaobo's case belongs to China's domestic affairs, and foreign countries are in no position to make improper remarks," China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency on Friday.

Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represented Liu, said all contact with Liu Xia had been cut off in the past 48 hours.