BEIJING — After eight years of de facto house arrest, the widow of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died last year in Chinese police custody boarded on Tuesday her flight to freedom.
Liu Xia, who told friends she was heavily surveilled and effectively detained after the death of her husband, writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, took off for Berlin, according to a social media post by her brother and a Facebook post by a close associate in Germany.
“My sister has left Beijing to fly to Europe. She will start a new life and is grateful for all the people who have cared for her and helped her,” her brother Liu Hui posted on WeChat.
China’s Foreign Ministry later confirmed her departure saying she left the country “by her own free will” for medical treatment, without specifying the ailments, according to spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Her journey comes after the United States and European Union have repeatedly urged President Xi Jinping to allow the widow to leave the country, asserting she had never been charged with a crime.
Advocates worldwide celebrated the news Tuesday.
“Liu Xia should have been able to live and grieve freely while her husband was wrongly detained and when he grew ill and died,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope she is en route to freedom and hopefully a more peaceful life.”
Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher at Amnesty International, said he hopes the widow’s apparent release assuages the mental anguish she is reported to have endured.
“Liu Xia has been suffering from depression and under tight surveillance for so many years,” he said. “Her situation has been so worrying.”
However, some worried she may not feel safe to speak about her life in China over the past decade, since her brother still lives in Beijing.
Liu Xiaobo was a writer and a prominent voice during the democratic movement which led to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. He was convicted in 2009 of “subversion of state power.”
The following year, the writer became China’s first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights.” A chair sat empty for him at the ceremony in Norway.
Liu Xiaobo’s prison sentence turned out to be for life. He died a year ago Friday of liver cancer.
Through his ordeal, Liu Xia, 57, faced her own. Chinese officials told reporters Liu Xia was free to do what she wished, but authorities banned Western diplomats from visiting her.
News outlets reported she was constantly monitored and unable to leave her house on her own. Occasionally, she could write to or call friends, reports said.
In a letter published last year, Liu Xia wrote to a friend that she was “going mad” in her isolation, according to the AFP news agency.
“Too solitary,” the note read, “I have not the right to speech / To speak loudly / I live like a plant / I lie like a corpse.”
Concerns for her safety surged in May, after a conversation between Liu Xia and her friend, exiled Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, surfaced on the Internet.
During the talk, which took place in April, she said she was “prepared to die.”