BEIJING — Jailed activist and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo has died at 61 due to multiple organ failure, the Chinese justice bureau and the hospital where he was being treated for terminal liver cancer said Thursday.
Liu was an internationally prominent writer and activist who called for political reform in China and an end to the country’s one-party rule. In 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subverting state power.
One year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work campaigning for human rights in China.
He was granted medical parole last month after being diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Family and friends, as well as foreign governments and organizations, had been petitioning the Chinese government to allow him to go abroad for treatment.
But Beijing refused to let him and his wife, Liu Xia, leave the country.
“I feel a lot of sadness and hatred, but now we have to focus on Liu Xia,” friend and fellow activist Mo Zhixu told dpa after learning about Liu’s death.
Liu Xia, who reportedly suffers from depression and a heart condition, has been under house arrest since 2010, when her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mo said Liu’s friends are pushing for Liu Xia and her brother to be allowed to go abroad.
“We stand in solidarity with [Liu’s] wife Liu Xia and other members of his family, who have suffered an immeasurable loss,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
“We must do all we can to end Liu Xia’s illegal house arrest and surveillance and ensure that she is no longer persecuted by the authorities,” Shetty said.
Liu was a “giant of human rights” who for decades “fought tirelessly to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms in China,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also called on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to leave the country.
The widow, family and friends of the deceased Nobel peace laureate will hopefully “be able to grieve and honor him in accordance with their wishes,” Zeid said in a statement.
As news of Liu’s deteriorating health emerged over the past two weeks, the Chinese government faced growing criticism from foreign governments and organizations as well as requests to let Liu and his wife travel abroad for treatment.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee placed blame on the Chinese government, with committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen saying it bore “a heavy responsibility” for Liu’s death.
The U.S. and German governments as recently as Wednesday had urged Chinese authorities to allow Liu to leave the country.
“While the whole world watched, China chose instead to maintain the isolation of its prisoner,” Reiss-Andersen said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s answer to foreign pressure had been that Liu’s situation was an “internal affair.”
A German and U.S. doctor who visited Liu on Saturday said he could have safely been transported abroad for treatment, contradicting the assessment of the hospital in Shenyang.
Former student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests, Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi, condemned the Chinese government following Liu’s death.
“This is a political murder undisguised,” Wang said in a Facebook post, calling the day “the second June 4 incident” in reference to the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.