Rights groups cautiously hail Liu Xia departure

Bobby Yip  Reuters

The widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize victor Liu Xiaobo has been allowed to leave the country, boarding a flight for Germany, reports say.

Ms Liu was placed under house arrest days after her late husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - an honour which infuriated the Chinese government. Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. "If I can't leave, I'll die in my home", she said. "China hopes to team up with Germany", he said.

Her friends said she left China on board a Finnair flight bound for Germany on Tuesday. Chinese authorities repeatedly declined to discuss Liu Xia's confinement, which critics say was cruel and illegal.

Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, talks to the media in Beijing February 11, 2010. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China and has raised Liu Xia's case with Chinese officials, including during a visit in May, people familiar with the matter said.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced in 2009 on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he co-authored a manifesto calling for political change in China.

A Reuters news report quoting the BBC said that Liu Xia took a Finnair flight that departed from Beijing at around 03:00 GMT.

Liu Xia was never charged with a crime but has spent eight years under house arrest.

However, some anxious she may not feel safe to speak about her life in China over the past decade, since her brother still lives in Beijing.

Liu Hui also confirmed his sister's departure on a social media site.

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Another friend, Ye Du, told the Post that Liu Xia's elder brother, Liu Tong, told him over the telephone that he was very happy that his sister had left China.

If the reports that she's been released to Germany are true, it would mark an end to almost a decade of unofficial detention for Liu Xia-who has been kept under strict state surveillance since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010.

China has previously criticized calls by Western governments for Liu's release, saying that foreign countries were making "improper remarks" over what Beijing sees as a domestic affair.

Liu Xia's departure was "wonderful news" but harassment of her family remained a risk to her freedom to criticise China, Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon said.

"Our parents and Xiaobo entrusted [her] to me, now that she has safely left, I'm very emotional", he said. "It's easier to die than live".

Germany has been pushing China to let Liu leave following the death of her husband on July 13, 2017, from liver cancer at the age of 61 while in custody, Western diplomats have said. She was depicted attending Liu's closely staged funeral dressed in black and wearing dark sunglasses as she clutched a photograph of her husband.

Her departure, following a year of pressure on Beijing from activists and rights groups, comes at the end of a visit to Germany by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, during which the two countries signed commercial deals worth more than US$23 billion. The first, Carl von Ossietzky, died from tuberculosis in Germany in 1938 while serving a sentence for opposing Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

But China Human Rights Defenders researcher Frances Eve said Liu's release was an "easy win" for China. Apart from Liu Xia, everyone is also very anxious about [detained human rights lawyer] Wang Quanzhang.

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