Liu Xia will not attend a memorial in Berlin for her late husband Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo on Friday, because her brother is still in China, a friend of hers has said.

Liu Xia arrived in Germany on Tuesday after eight years of de facto house arrest, despite never being charged with any crime. Her brother Liu Hui remains in China on bail over an 11-year jail sentence on fraud charges in 2013 – a case which was widely seen as political persecution.

Liao Tianqi, a friend and the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, met Liu Xia in Berlin for two hours on Thursday, before speaking to the press.

Liao Tianqi Liu Xia
From left: Liao Tianqi and Liu Xia. /Liao Tianqi.

Liao said Liu was happy but she was still physically weak. She said Liu thanked Hong Kong people and Hong Kong media for the attention they gave to her and her husband over the years.

Memorial at Berlin church

However, Liao said Liu will not be able 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. Former German president Joachim Gauck will attend the event.

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 after battling liver cancer while on medical parole, making him the first Nobel laureate to die in custody since 1938.

Liao said Liu Xia will conduct a “spiritual conversation” with Liu Xiaobo quietly on Friday.

Liu Hui Liu Xia
Liu Hui and Liu Xia. Photo: rfi.

Liao made reference to Liu Hui: “If necessary, the Chinese government can put him in prison anytime. I believe he is the closest person to Liu Xia, so she has a lot of consideration about this.”

“If she attends, there will be some bad consequences that she does not want to see,” Liao said. “She said she was very sorry, but she cannot. Because this was not a decision that she could make. She cannot attend.”

Liao also said Liu Xia will not meet with the press in the short term, and will not go to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her late husband.

According to Liao, Liu Xia said she hoped to go to Spain because she loved Spanish red wines.

Delayed departure

Liao said she heard from the German Foreign Ministry in March that Liu Xia could leave the country. She said Liu was very happy and started to pack at that time.

Liu Xia Liu Xiaobo
Liu Xia kissing a sculpture of Liu Xiaobo. /Liao Tianqi.

However, Liao said she could not reach Liu in April, and found out later that Liu received news that she was banned from leaving. A recording of Liu Xia made at the end of April, in which she said “it is easier to die than live,” was then made public in May.

Liao said the situation changed when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited China in May and spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the matter. Merkel was under pressure from several groups.

Liao said that, a day before Liu was allowed to leave, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was visiting Merkel in Berlin and both sides signed a US$30 billion commercial agreement amid a China-US trade war. At the same time, Merkel herself was caught up in internal differences with her political partners over refugee policies.

“To me, Liu Xia was a big gift [for Merkel]. It may be a small thing [for China], but I know it was very important to Mrs Merkel,” Liao said.

“It was obviously not the case that the Chinese government showed a humanitarian gesture on the Liu Xia issue,” she added.

刘霞与赫塔 米勒、彼得 西冷。刘霞与蚂蚁。在昨天。

Posted by Yiwu Liao on Thursday, 12 July 2018

Liao said the public must also keep in mind that 64-year-old Chinese political campaigner Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in jail on Wednesday. He may die in jail.

Photos posted by another friend of Liu Xia, Liao Yiwu, showed that – on Thursday – Liu met Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel laureate in Literature, and Peter Sillem, a representative for Liu Xia’s photographic art.

Liu Hui told RTHK that he was happy to see his sister’s smile. He said Liu Xia met with several friends on Thursday and visited a supermarket. She told him that “maybe Berlin is what heaven should look like.”

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.