Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo dies of cancer

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As the hospital treating Liu Xiaobao says his organs and breathing have begun to fail from cancer, few in China know about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and his lifetime pursuit of liberal democratic reform.
Prominent dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo pictured during a March 5, 1995 interview. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo died on Thursday (July 13) of liver cancer, ending a life dedicated to championing political reform and liberal democracy for his country.

While many of the current generation of young Chinese people may not have heard of him and his "great contribution" to China, "history will not forget him", said prominent Chinese social commentator Wu Jiaxiang.

The 61-year-old activist, who was serving an 11-year jail term for subversion of the state, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in May, placed on medical parole last month and moved to a hospital in Shenyang, in north-eastern Liaoning province.

His wife Liu Xia was allowed to be by his side but his friends were barred from visiting him, according to media reports.

Many of his supporters and some foreign governments had urged the Chinese government to allow him to seek treatment overseas.

An American oncologist and a German doctor specialising in pancreatic surgery examined him last week, and said that they believed Mr Liu could be safely evacuated from China.

But Beijing rejected foreign calls for his release. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press conference on Thursday: "We hope relevant countries can respect China's judicial sovereignty and refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs under the pretext of an individual case."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his condolences and called on China to release Mr Liu's wife and let her leave the country.

"Mr Liu dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and humankind, and to the pursuit of justice and liberty," he said in a statement.

"I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes."

US ambassador to China Terry Branstad also called on China to release all prisoners of conscience.

"China has lost a deeply principled role model who deserved our respect and adulation, not the prison sentences to which he was subjected," he said in a statement.

Ms Berit Reiss-Andersen, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the Chinese government bore heavy responsibility for Mr Liu's "premature death".

"We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill," she told Reuters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to Mr Liu as a "courageous fighter for human rights".

"I mourn Liu Xiaobo, the courageous fighter for human rights and freedom of expression," Dr Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted on her behalf.

A literary critic and political activist, Mr Liu was jailed in 1989 for taking part in the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests that year. He was released in 1991 but detained again in 1995 for calling for political reform on the sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen incident.

Released in February 1996, he was sent to a labour camp for three years in October that year for a declaration on the Taiwan issue.

He received his current sentence in 2009 for his part in the writing of Charter 08, a manifesto released in December 2008 calling for freedom of expression and an end to one-party rule, among other things.

Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam noted that "because of the thorough, repressive system, his influence has been fading, particularly among younger people under 30".

But among intellectuals in China, "he will be a beacon of light in tough times", he said.

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