Friends of the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo were worried about the fate of his widow on Sunday, with no signs that authorities had freed her after the dissident’s sea burial.
Close friends lost touch with the poet Liu Xia after her husband died on Thursday of liver cancer aged 61 while he was in police custody at a hospital in northeast China.
The United States and European Union have called on President Xi Jinping’s Communist government to free Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010, and let her go abroad.
The authorities released images of the grieving wife at a private funeral on Saturday, and later on a boat with relatives as they lowered an urn containing her husband’s ashes into the sea.
“We are very worried. We saw from authorities’ photos of the funeral that she is weak and pained. She looked like the world’s saddest person,” said Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and close friend.
“If I could see her, I would comfort her and offer her a shoulder to cry on,” Hu said.
Following his terminal cancer diagnosis, the democracy advocate requested to receive treatment abroad — a wish that friends believe was in reality for his wife’s sake. But the authorities refused to let him go.
Although Liu Xia stayed out of politics, she has been under police watch without charges since shortly after her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
Liu Xiaobo was a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was detained in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms. During the past seven years, Liu Xia was only allowed to leave her Beijing apartment to visit her parents or her husband at his prison in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where he was serving an 11-year sentence until he was admitted at a hospital in early June.
“There is no higher priority than getting Liu Xia out. That authorities have broadcast their ongoing torture of her heightens the urgency,” Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said.
“They are broadcasting on multiple mediums, images and video of her doing what authorities say she wants to be doing — all the while not letting her speak freely for herself and having held her baselessly under house arrest,” she said.