Over the weekend, the body of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was cremated and his ashes scattered to the sea in an abrupt and carefully-choreographed ceremony which will ensure that the human rights icon’s supporters will have no grave at which to honor his memory.
Liu died last Thursday of multiple organ failure at a Chinese hospital while still under heavy guard. Jailed since 2009 for fighting for democratic reforms in China, Liu was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in May before being transferred from his prison cell to a hospital room where his treatment became an international issue.
Following his death, questions of what would come next were promptly answered on Saturday when Chinese state media released propaganda photos of the “private” cremation ceremony held by Liu’s family (to the strains of Mozart’s Requiem) and officials described at a press conference in Shenyang how Liu’s family had wanted to cremate his remains and then hold a “simple” ceremony by scattering his ashes to the sea — an event that was also captured on camera.
The swift and unusual ceremony has been criticized by Liu’s friends and supporters who believe that it was directed by the government, not Liu’s family.
“It was a deliberate move by the Chinese government to hastily arrange the funeral so no one could visit his body, which would evoke the most memories,” said activist Hu Jia. “It’s humiliating to a Nobel winner.”
“This is too evil, too evil,” exiled author Liao Yiwu told the Guardian. “They are a bunch of gangsters.”
At the press conference, Liu Xiaobo’s brother, Liu Xiaoguang, backed up the government’s story, claiming that the family had decided to feed Liu to the fishes for “environmental reasons,” before going on to praise the Chinese government for its “humanitarian spirit.”
“On behalf of Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo’s other family members, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the humanistic care from the Party and the government,” Liu Xiaoguang said. “Because everything they have done for our family shows a high level of humanity and personal care to us.”
Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia, was not at the presser. Following her husband’s death, supporters began focusing their attention on her fate. Liu Xia has lived under house arrest in Beijing ever since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. To explain her absence at the conference, Liu Xiaoguang said that Liu Xia was not in good health.
With activists calling for China to finally give Liu her freedom, Shenyang government spokesperson, Zhang Qingyang, also said on Saturday that Liu Xia was “free” and that the Chinese government would “protect her legitimate rights in accordance with the law,” but added that she still needs more time to grieve.
Zhang did not reveal Liu Xia’s whereabouts. Friends say that they have been unable to contact her since her husband’s death.
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