China’s most famous jailed dissident, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, has died while still in custody and under heavy guard at a Chinese hospital, following a battle with liver cancer that caught the entire world’s attention.
The First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang released a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying that the gravely ill 61-year-old human rights icon, who has lived behind bars since 2009 for authoring a document calling for democratic reform in China, was in critical condition, indicating that he did not have long left to live.
Finally, on Thursday evening, the Shenyang Justice Bureau posted a brief notice on its website stating that Liu Xiaobo had died of organ failure. He becomes the first Nobel Peace laureate to die while in custody since 1938 in Nazi Germany.
Last month, Liu was transferred from his prison cell to a hospital room following a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer which shocked the world. Following that revelation, governments, officials and activists from around the globe called on China to give Liu the freedom to choose where he wanted to receive treatment.
However, the Chinese government and doctors repeatedly rejected these calls, explaining that Liu was not well enough to travel, an assessment that was contradicted by two foreign doctors who were allowed to see Liu in his hospital room. Rather than be transferred abroad, Liu died in Shenyang, not far from the prison where he spent much of the past decade.
The last video of Liu, released earlier this week, shows him in his hospital bed surrounded by Chinese doctors in white coats with some holding cameras. At the foot of the bed is his wife, Liu Xia, who stands motionless as one of the foreign doctors tries to comfort her.
Liu was jailed for 11 years back in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power” after helping to author the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for 19 changes to be made to China’s government, including the elimination of one-party rule. Previously, Liu had spent decades as one of the most vocal critics of the Chinese government, being arrested multiple times, including in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
In that case, he was convicted of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement,” but exempted from criminal punishment for having convinced students to leave Tiananmen Square as PLA soldiers and tanks closed in, saving hundreds of lives.
In 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to non-violent protest and human rights, much to Beijing’s displeasure. China quickly froze relations with Norway and heavily censored news about the award back home. During the ceremony, the Nobel diploma and prize were both symbolically placed on an empty chair. Actress Liv Ullman read aloud from a self-defense speech that Liu had given at his trial the previous year, which includes the words:
“I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.”
News of Liu’s death has brought forth remembrances from friends and supporters from across the globe, as well as condemnations for how he was treated by the Chinese government:
— Nicholas Bequelin 林伟 (@bequelin) July 13, 2017
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) July 13, 2017
RIP, Liu Xiaobo. Nobel Laureate dies in Chinese custody. The only other Laureate to die this way was under the Nazis. Permanent stain on CCP
— Rob Schmitz (@rob_schmitz) July 13, 2017
Liu Xiaobo died cruelly in Chinese custody but his vision of a free and democratic China will live on and inspire us all for years to come. pic.twitter.com/WWfM1nFNlN
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) July 13, 2017
— Sophie Richardson (@SophieHRW) July 13, 2017
US embassy statement on Liu Xiaobo's death, repeats call to free his wife pic.twitter.com/VBVMzfeTli
— Kathleen McLaughlin (@kemc) July 13, 2017
Xiaobo died under guard in a world where states still dim our brightest lights. The law is not justice. 愿我们的兄弟休息。 https://t.co/8o2Tm3RADj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) July 13, 2017
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) July 13, 2017
We will strive to carry forward his legacy to fight for democracy in HK and China. Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo dies https://t.co/z83cyId7qv
— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf) July 13, 2017
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) July 13, 2017
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) July 13, 2017
While the rest of the world remembers Liu Xiaobo, reactions are much different inside China where most people do not even know who he was. In order to make sure things stay that way, news of Liu’s death has been removed from Chinese social media, along with even the candle emoji.
— Jonathan Kaiman (@JRKaiman) July 13, 2017
Those angry at our supposedly "bad" and "controlling" media environment, read this.
Many Chinese don't even know Liu Xiaobo ever existed. pic.twitter.com/r7LsYwwlFC
— Christoph Rehage (@crehage) July 13, 2017
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