© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tears And Anger: World Responds To Death Of Chinese Dissident

A protester cries as he mourns jailed Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong on Thursday. Officials say China's most prominent political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, has died at 61.
Vincent Yu

Updated at 6 p.m. ET

The death of the Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who died on Thursday while serving an 11-year prison sentence, has prompted an outpouring of grief and rage around the world.

Liu, 61, was a lifelong advocate for democracy and freedom who was jailed by the Chinese authorities multiple times. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, while he was imprisoned.

This spring he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer. Beijing granted medical parole for him to receive treatment, including from foreign experts, but the government refused to allow him to travel abroad for medical care.

Liu's wife, the poet Liu Xia, remains under house arrest, although she has not been charged with an offense.

His death has led to widespread criticism of Beijing, including outrage over Liu's original imprisonment and allegations that the state delayed his diagnosis or denied him treatment that might have saved his life.

The White House called President Trump "deeply saddened" at Liu's death. "A poet, scholar, and courageous advocate, Liu Xiaobo dedicated his life to the pursuit of democracy and liberty," the statement said.

Berit Reiss-Anderson, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told Reuters in an emailed statement that the government of China "bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.

"We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill," Reiss-Andersen said, according to the wire service.

PEN America said in a statement that Liu's death "will forever be a black mark marring China's reputation under international law and global human rights standards.

"As President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu Xiaobo was a friend and compatriot for writers all over the world who struggle against tyranny using words as their sole weapon," PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel said in the statement. "Liu Xiaobo's purported crime was no crime at all, but rather a visionary exposition on the potential future of a country he loved."

Nossel denounced the length of Xiaobo's prison sentence, and said Beijing limited his access to high-quality medical care.

"China's refusal to honor Liu Xiaobo's last wish to travel overseas for treatment and its decision to hold him incommunicado during his dying days are a cruel epitaph in the tale of a powerful regime's determination to crush a brave man," she said.

The Guardian, meanwhile, spoke to several of Liu's friends and fellow activists, who were heartbroken and angry about Liu's death:

" 'It is so hard. I don't know if I can say anything,' said the author and activist Tienchi Martin-Liao, a longtime friend, breaking down in tears as she learned of Liu's death. 'I hate this government ... I am furious and lots of people share my feeling. It is not only sadness – it is fury. How can a regime treat a person like Liu Xiaobo like this? I don't have the words to describe it.' ...

" 'Liu Xiaobo is immortal, no matter whether he is alive or dead,' said Hu Ping, a friend of almost three decades who edits a pro-democracy journal called the Beijing Spring. 'Liu Xiaobo is a man of greatness, a saint.'

"Zhao Hui, a writer and activist who goes by the pen name Mo Zhixu, said: 'I feel bitter hatred ... It is so cruel and inhuman.' "

Looking further into the future, Liu's international counsel Jared Genser released a statement that mixed mourning with defiance.

"Despite the tragedy that Liu's freedom has come from his death, it is clear today that the Chinese government has lost," Genser said. "Liu's ideas and his dreams will persist, spread, and will, one day, come to fruition. And his courage and his sacrifice for his country will inspire millions of Chinese activists and dissidents to persevere until China has become the multi-party democracy that Liu knew to his core was within its people's grasp."

But while Liu's death is deeply felt within the community of activists and writers, many in China — where the media is controlled by the state — were not even aware of his illness and death.

As NPR's Anthony Kuhn notes, "Liu Xiaobo remains largely unknown in his own country, and his name has been erased from the country's Chinese-language media and Internet."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.