Who is Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo?

June 27, 2017

Liu Xiaobo is a hero to many – but a villain to his own government.

Nobel judges describe him as the “foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.

The Chinese authorities say he is a criminal and have repeatedly jailed him for his protests against their rule.

But the Nobel Peace Prize winner, 61, has been released from prison on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

  • Liu Xiaobo: 20 years of activism
  • China frees jailed dissident after cancer diagnosis

It was his role in calling for a new constitution in 2008 that led to him being jailed for “subverting state power”. At the time, the US government called on China to release the political activist, first arrested two decades earlier for his part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

The then 33-year-old from north-east China was credited with encouraging students to leave instead of facing down the army.

Afterwards, he was offered asylum in the Australian embassy but refused it, choosing instead to stay in China and continue his fight for democracy.

Mr Liu was arrested in the government’s subsequent crackdown, but released in 1991 without charge.

Image captionHe is considered a criminal by China’s government, but a hero to those supporting the human rights movement

In 1996 Mr Liu was sentenced to three years in a camp for “re-education through labour”, having campaigned for the release of those imprisoned for their roles in Tiananmen Square.

It did not stop him speaking out. Despite his books being banned in his home country and being blocked from continuing to work as a university lecturer, Mr Liu, who holds a doctorate in Chinese literature, has continued with his activism.

In 2008 he helped draft Charter 08, which called for a series of reforms – including a new constitution and legislative democracy.

It also called the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to modernisation “disastrous”.

On Christmas Day 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

  • The Nobel Peace Prize’s empty chair

He remained optimistic, however.

“I firmly believe that China’s political progress will not stop, and I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future free China,” he said in a statement released after the trial.

“For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme.”

The next year Mr Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The judges praised him for his “long and non-violent struggle”.

Unsurprisingly, China reacted angrily. Mr Liu was not allowed to attend the ceremony and the world’s media instead took pictures of an empty chair.

At the time, foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the peace prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to such a person.”

Shortly after the award, Mr Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest, isolated from family and supporters.

The Chinese authorities have never explained why they have restricted her movements.

Then on 23 May 2017, with three years left on his sentence, Mr Liu was diagnosed with liver cancer.

He is now being treated in a hospital in the north-eastern city of Shenyang.

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