BEIJING • China is facing international calls to free the widow of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo after global condemnation over its refusal to grant his dying wish to leave the country.
The United States and the European Union have urged the Chinese government to let his widow, poet- photographer Liu Xia, leave China.
Chinese doctors said Madam Liu, 56, was by her husband's side when he died of liver cancer in custody on Thursday. She has been under house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 but was allowed to visit him in prison about once a month.
But the authorities have restricted her contact with the outside world and her whereabouts were unknown following the death of her husband, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests whose advocacy for democratic reform infuriated the government.
Mr Liu, 61, was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after he helped write a petition calling for sweeping political reforms.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: "I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China."
The EU urged Beijing to let her bury her husband "at a place and in a manner of their choosing, and to allow them to grieve in peace".
Friends of the couple said yesterday that they were unable to contact her. Her parents both died over the past year, and the widow has depression, according to friends.
"After the death of Liu Xiaobo, our most important goal is to save Liu Xia from the bitter sea," said Mr Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist.
China has lodged "stern representations" with countries that made remarks about Mr Liu, expressing its firm opposition, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said yesterday. Mr Geng said he had no information about Madam Liu, but added that the entry and exit of Chinese citizens would be handled in accordance with the law.
Mr Liu's lawyer, Mr Mo Shaoping, said there was no legal reason for China to prevent Madam Liu from leaving the country.
"But China is not a country with pure rule of law, so it is possible they will ignore the law and stop her from going," he added.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, said it was "deeply worried" about Madam Liu's situation.
Friends have begun calling to be allowed to join in Mr Liu's funeral arrangements and support his wife and family. More than 150 friends and supporters have signed an open letter announcing plans for an "online memorial" to Mr Liu, urging the authorities to release his body and allow a public funeral.
China's censors, meanwhile, acted swiftly to scrub social media networks of images of candles and "RIP" tributes to Mr Liu.
"The deceased has gone, the feigned sorrow is really preposterous," Global Times said in a social media post that appeared to mock mourners. "We will just eat watermelon and watch for the night."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo dies. str.sg/4RLi