SHENYANG • The body of China's late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was cremated yesterday and his widow is "free", said a government official as Beijing faced international pressure to let her leave the country.
Dr Liu's remains were incinerated "in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs" in north-eastern Shenyang city, said Mr Zhang Qingyang, a municipal office official.
His widow, the poet Liu Xia, was present and was given the ashes, Mr Zhang told a news conference in Shenyang. The ashes were later scattered in the sea.
"According to my understanding, Liu Xia is currently free," the official said, adding that as a Chinese citizen, Madam Liu's rights would be protected under the law.
In funeral photographs handed out by the government, Madam Liu and other family members stand around the coffin containing her husband's body, surrounded by white flowers that signify mourning. Another picture shows what appears to be a box containing Dr Liu's ashes being presented to Madam Liu, as she clasps a black-and-white photograph of her husband.
Mr Zhang said "friends" were at the ceremony, but Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon said he did not recognise any of the row of non-family members in the official photo. People close to the Liu couple identified at least one "state security police officer" among them.
Chinese dissident artist critic Ai Weiwei, who lives in Berlin, tweeted a photo of the funeral and called the display "disgusting" and a "violation" of the deceased.
Dr Liu, 61, died of multiple organ failure last Thursday in a Shenyang hospital, where he was being treated for late-stage liver cancer, having been given medical parole.
He had been jailed for 11 years in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after helping to write a petition, "Charter 08", calling for sweeping political reforms.
Madam Liu has been under effective house arrest since he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but had been allowed to visit him in prison about once a month.
She has never been formally charged with any crime.
Liu family lawyer Mo Shaoping told Reuters he did not know whether the cremation was in accordance with the family's wishes as they had been unreachable. "They are likely still to be under the watch and control of authorities," Mr Mo said. "They can't be contacted."
During the past couple of weeks, Madam Liu had been at the hospital as her husband's health deteriorated.
Rights groups and Western governments have mourned Dr Liu's death and urged Chinese authorities to grant freedom of movement to Madam Liu and family members.
China has repeatedly attacked foreign governments for their concern about Dr Liu and calls to allow his wife to leave the country if she wishes, and foreign reporters in Shenyang have been closely monitored by plainclothes security.
The cremation coincided with the release of prominent rights activist Xu Zhiyong after serving a four-year sentence that prompted international criticism. Mr Xu, whose "New Citizens' Movement" advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and subsequently convicted of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order".
The Global Times newspaper yesterday attacked Dr Liu as a "despised" criminal out of step with Chinese society. He wanted to overthrow China's political system and replace it with a Western model challenging stability and national security, the Global Times said.
"This is why Chinese society opposes and despises him," it said in an English-language editorial. "He was paranoid, naive and arrogant."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS