Beijing-based friends of Liu Xia – the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo – have celebrated her freedom after she left China for Germany on Tuesday.

Gao Yu, a prominent journalist, and Bao Tong, former top adviser to ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang, were among those attending a dinner in the Chinese capital. They gathered as Liu Xia arrived in Helsinki on Tuesday night in transit to Berlin, following almost eight years of de facto house arrest.

“To a good life in Europe for Liu Xia,” Gao said as they toasted her freedom, according to a video shared on social media.

Human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, also in attendance, said he hoped her brother Liu Hui would be safe. He remains in China owing to “legal issues.”

Patrick Poon, researcher for Amnesty International, has criticised China’s treatment of Liu Hui, saying that he was forced to stay in Beijing in order to ensure his sister would not speak out publicly.

“This is a very terrible method,” Poon told an RTHK radio programme on Wednesday. “To put it plainly, he is now a hostage. This is unacceptable. In the long run, it will cause Liu Xia psychological pressure.”

When Liu Xia arrived at the Berlin Tegel airport on Tuesday night, she was quickly driven away by a car parked on the runway arranged by the German government.

Liu Xia
Liu Xia at the Helsinki Vantaa airport. File photo: Facebook./Chow Po-chung.

Liu’s friend Liao Yiwu, a poet living in exile in Germany, went to the airport intending to receive Liu.

Although he was unable to meet her there, he said he received a call from Liu before he left the airport.

liu xia
Photo: Amnesty International Germany.

“It has been so many years, it feels like it has been a lifetime, there are no words to express my feelings,” he said on Twitter.

“Liu Xia is in good spirits, but her physical condition is indeed weak, she gets light-headed walking every few steps. Experts say that she cannot meet with journalists not because she does not want to, but because of her physical condition.”

Liu will stay in Berlin but her precise place of residence remains uncertain. Liao said it may be possible for her to attend a memorial for Liu Xiaobo at the Gethsemane church in Berlin on Friday, the anniversary of his death. The church was an important refuge for East German dissidents.

Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese poet who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. He was jailed for 11 years a year earlier for inciting “subversion of state power,” after he penned Charter ’08 – a manifesto urging democratic reform. He died a year ago this Friday after battling liver cancer while on medical parole, making him the first Nobel laureate to die in custody since 1938.

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter that it was “pleasurable news that Liu Xia has arrived in Germany.”

“Good that a humane solution could be found,” he said. “Liu Xia can now receive medical treatment in Germany. We hope for a speedy recovery.”

Last year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee issued an open invitation to Liu Xia to come to Oslo and receive the Nobel Prize on behalf of Liu Xiaobo.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in a statement: “It will be up to Liu Xia to decide the circumstances under which this will happen.”

Liu Xiaobo Nobel empty chair
As a tribute to the absent Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Medal and Diploma were placed on an empty chair during the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, 10 December 2010. Photo: Ken Opprann/The Nobel Foundation.

‘Small matters’

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on a regular press briefing on Wednesday that Liu Xia and Liu Hui are both Chinese citizens, and Chinese immigration department would handle the immigration matters of Chinese citizens in accordance with the law, reported RTHK.

When asked about the Norwegian Nobel Committee invitation, Hua said China’s stance on the Nobel Peace Prize has been consistent, and Hong Kong reporters have been “extraordinarily concerned about the case.” She said reporters can stop asking questions about Liu Xia, because she has nothing else to add.

Hua Chunying
Hua Chunying. File Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hua walked over to two Hong Kong reporters after the briefing, according to RTHK and Commercial Radio.

She said that the reporters only cared about “individual small matters,” and that their questions about China-US trade were only intended to pave the way for further questions about Liu Xia. The reporters reportedly asked Hua not to speculate.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.