CHINA (CBSMiami) — Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned for advocating democracy and human rights in China has died at the age of 61, according the Chinese judicial bureau.
Liu had been undergoing treatment for advanced liver cancer diagnosed in prison in May 2017.
His supporters and foreign governments had called on China to release Liu and allow him to receive treatment abroad, but Chinese authorities insisted he was receiving the best care possible within the country for a disease that had spread throughout his body.
Liu was a literary critic and prolific essayist who advocated peacefully for free expression and other human rights and for sweeping political reforms that would end one-party rule in China.
The ruling Communist Party considered his writings subversive and imprisoned him four times.
He came to prominence following the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which he called the “major turning point” in his life.
Liu had been a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York when he returned early to China in May 1989 to join the movement that was sweeping the country and was regarded by the party as a grave challenge to its authority.
When the Chinese government sent troops and tanks into Beijing to quash the protests on the night of 3-4 June, Liu persuaded some students to leave the square rather than face down the army.
The military crackdown killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people and heralded a more repressive era.
Liu became one of hundreds imprisoned for crimes linked to the demonstrations. It was only the first of four stays in prisons owing to his ideology.
His final prison sentence was for co-authoring Charter ’08, a document circulated that year that called for more freedom of expression, human rights and an independent judiciary.
Although Liu wasn’t the initiator, he was a prominent force behind it and already well known to the authorities.
The sentence only increased Liu’s prominence outside of his country.
In 2010, while Liu was serving his sentence in a prison in a small city in China’s northeast, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with the Norwegian-based committee citing Liu’s “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
The award enraged China’s government, which condemned it as a political farce.
Within days, Liu’s wife, artist and poet Liu Xia, was put under house arrest, despite not being convicted of any crime.
China also punished Norway, even though the government has no say over the independent Nobel panel’s decisions.
China suspended a bilateral trade deal and restricted imports of Norwegian salmon, and relations only resumed in 2017.
Dozens of Liu’s supporters were prevented from leaving the country to accept the award on Liu’s behalf. Instead, Liu’s absence at the prize-giving ceremony in Oslo, Norway, was marked by an empty chair.
Liu was born on 28 December, 1955, in the northeastern city of Changchun, the son of a language and literature professor who was a committed party member.
The middle of five sons, he was among the first students to attend Jilin University when college entrance examinations resumed after the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
He studied Chinese literature there and later moved to the capital, first as a graduate student then as a lecturer at Beijing Normal University.
After spending nearly two years in detention following the Tiananmen crackdown, Liu was detained for the second time in 1995 after drafting a plea for political reform.
Later that year, he was detained a third time after co-drafting “Opinion on Some Major Issues Concerning our Country Today.” That resulted in a three-year sentence to a labour camp, during which time he married Liu Xia.
Released in 1999, he joined the international literary and human rights organization PEN and continued advocating for human rights and democracy.
Liu Xia’s brother was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment over a real estate dispute which supporters said was about persecuting Liu Xiaobo’s family.
Two years after Liu’s Nobel prize, a Chinese writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature, to the delight of Chinese authorities. Mo Yan is not a critic of the Communist Party, and after initially evading questions from reporters, he eventually said he wished for Liu Xiaobo’s freedom.
Other Nobel laureates were more outspoken. In 2012, an appeal by 134 Nobel laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called the detentions of both Lius a violation of international law and urged their immediate release.
Fellow PEN members such as Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie appealed for his release in a letter June 29, after he was transferred from prison to the hospital.