Liu Xia, the wife of late Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has apparently been freed from house arrest and allowed to leave the country.
The widow of the renowned human rights campaigner left China for Germany on Tuesday, according to reports.
Liu Xia was on a Finnair flight bound for Helsinki that left Beijing at around 11 am local time, Ye Du, a writer and friend, told Reuters.
Ye said he was informed of Liu’s departure by her older brother.
Liu Xia had left to “start her new life” in Europe, her younger brother, Liu Hui, said on his WeChat account, according to a screenshot of the message shown to Reuters by another friend.
Her departure, following a year of pressure on the government from activists and international human rights organizations, comes at the end of a visit to Germany by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Li is due to leave Germany on Tuesday.
Germany has been pushing China to let Liu leave following the death of her husband on July 13, 2017, from liver cancer while in Chinese custody, Western diplomats have said.
Liu Xia, a poet and artist who suffers from depression, had been under house arrest since 2010 when her husband, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who was sentenced to a 11-year prison term in 2009 for inciting subversion, was awarded the Peace Prize.
China has repeatedly said Liu Xia is free and accorded all rights guaranteed to her by law.
Johnny Lau, a political commentator based in Hong Kong, told Reuters that he believes authorities allowed her to leave as they didn’t want her case to spark huge pressure on China around the July 13 anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death.
China has been seeking to bolster its ties with the European Union amid a trade war with the US.
“A trade war has also broken out between China and the United States. China hopes to team up with Germany against the United States,” Lau said.
“Now China has made use of an opportunity to do Germany a favor so as to strengthen the Sino-German relationship.”
Liu Xia’s departure from China was “wonderful news” but harassment of her family remained a risk to her freedom to criticize China, Amnesty International’s China researcher Patrick Poon said.
Liu Xia’s brother Liu Hui was handed an 11-year jail sentence for fraud in 2013. He was later released but remains closely monitored, according to friends of the family. The brother is still in China.
“It’s worrying that her brother Liu Hui is still kept in China. Liu Xia might not be able to speak much for fear of her brother’s safety,” Poon said.
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