China Warns U.S. Against Meddling Over Nobel Laureate's Death

  • Liu Xiaobo, 61, was China’s most prominent political prisoner
  • Nobel Committee says China bears responsibility for his case

China warned the U.S. and others to stay out of its internal affairs after Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo’s death at a guarded hospital drew criticism from around the globe.

The 61-year-old author and university lecturer -- jailed in 2009 for advocating an end to one-party rule -- died on Thursday from complications related to liver cancer in the northeastern city of Shenyang. The death prompted criticism from the U.S. and Japan, while the Norwegian Nobel Committee said China bore a “heavy responsibility” for Liu’s fate.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said China had lodged protests with the countries involved and cautioned them against further interference. Meanwhile, state media carried news reports from the hospital where Liu died, the No. 1 Hospital of Chinese Medical University, where doctors defended his care.

A portrait of Liu Xiaobo is displayed at an exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in 2010.

Photographer: Berit Roald/AFP via Getty Images

“Liu Xiaobo is a person that has been sentenced to prison in accordance with the law,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular news briefing on Friday. “The comments made by certain countries are an interference in China’s judicial sovereignty and internal affairs and that goes against the spirit of international law.”

Chinese doctor Liu Yun Peng.

Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP via Getty Images

Liu’s supporters have criticized his care since his diagnosis was revealed last month and he was transferred to the hospital, denied visitors and not allowed to leave. China deflected calls to let Liu seek treatment overseas -- including from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad -- calling the case a domestic matter.

Liu is the first laureate to die under guard since pacifist and Nazism critic Carl von Ossietzky’s death in Germany in 1938.

‘Powerful Symbol’

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said China must guarantee human rights. “We’ll continue to watch China’s human rights situation with great interest,” he said in Tokyo.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said “the Chinese government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death” because he wasn’t given adequate treatment. “It is our deep conviction that Liu Xiaobo will remain a powerful symbol for all who fight for freedom, democracy and a better world,” she said.

Hospital doctors said a mass was found on Liu’s liver in a checkup on May 31, and that the cancer had already metastasized throughout his body. Pictures and videos of Liu receiving treatment were published on state media.

“Since the day Liu Xiaobo was admitted, the hospital has made every effort in his treatment,” said his supervising physician, Liu Yunpeng, who defended the decision not to send him abroad for treatment. “The situation was very dangerous.”

Protesters outside the Chinese Liaison Office of Hong Kong after the death of Liu Xiaobo on July 13.

Photographer: Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images

The Nobel Peace Prize -- awarded to Liu in absentia in 2010 -- made him China’s most prominent political prisoner and infuriated Beijing. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement Thursday that Liu “dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and humankind” and “died while serving a lengthy prison sentence in China for promoting peaceful democratic reform.”

President Donald Trump made no mention of Liu’s death at a news conference Thursday in Paris, where he praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “friend of mine” and a “very good man.” Later, the White House issued a statement saying Trump was “deeply saddened” to learn of Liu’s death, calling him a “courageous advocate.”

China Editorial

The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party, said in an English-only editorial that “Liu’s last days were politicized by the forces overseas.”

“Liu lived in an era when China witnessed the most rapid growth in recent history, but he attempted to confront Chinese mainstream society under Western support,” the paper said. “This has determined his tragic life. Even if he could live longer, he would never have achieved his political goals that are in opposition to the path of history.”

Liu is survived by his wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has been held under house arrest in their Beijing apartment since his 2009 conviction for inciting subversion of state power. Tillerson called for China to release her and let her leave the country.

Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year prison sentence stemmed from his role co-authoring “Charter 08,” a political manifesto calling for direct elections and the right to freedom of assembly. The document was signed by more than 300 lawyers, academics and activists and spread quickly across China’s internet, then less tightly controlled.

The empty chair for Liu Xiaobo stands at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in 2010.

Photographer: Heiko Junge/AFP via Getty Images

“I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech,” Liu said at his December 2009 trial. 

In response to the Peace Prize award, China suspended ties with Norway and froze free-trade talks, hurting sales of Norwegian salmon in the world’s most populous country. The two nations only mended fences last year.

Liu Xiaobo receiving medical treatment.

Source: Kyodo News via Getty Images

Liu was born Dec. 28, 1955, in Changchun city, in the northeastern province of Jilin. After the turmoil of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, he became a lecturer in Chinese literature and studied as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

His democratic struggle stretched back decades and included three lengthy stints behind bars. He returned to China in 1989 to join student demonstrators who had occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing and was kept in police custody for 21 months without trial for “counterrevolutionary” activities. He spent three years in a labor camp in the late-1990s.

“Liu Xiaobo is one of China’s most prominent prisoners of conscience,” the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a statement last month. “I was personally moved as well as encouraged when hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and concerned citizens, inspired by Liu Xiaobo, signed ‘Charter 08’ calling for democracy, freedom and rule of law in China.”

— With assistance by Ting Shi, David Ramli, Ken Wills, Keith Zhai, Jonas O Bergman, and Andy Sharp

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