BEIJING: In the fall of 2010, Liu Xia traveled to a prison in northeast China to tell her husband, the dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo, that he had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That was the last time she left home as a free woman.
Until this week. China on Tuesday allowed Liu Xia to fly to Berlin, ending an eight-year house arrest that drew international criticism and made the soft-spoken, chain-smoking 57-year-old poet with a shaven head a tragic icon known around the world.
As Liu Xia got off a plane in transit at the airport in Helsinki on Tuesday, she spread her arms and grinned widely at a waiting photographer.
The release of Liu Xia, who was never charged with any crime, results from years of campaigning by Western governments and activists and comes just days before the one-year anniversary Friday of Liu Xiaobo’s death. Liu’s 11-year prison sentence and his wife’s subsequent detention in her home had become glaring symbols of the authoritarian government’s determination to prevent the couple from becoming an inspiration to other Chinese.
“Sister has already left Beijing for Europe at noon to start her new life,” wrote Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, on a social media site. “Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. I hope from now on her life is peaceful and happy.”
Liu Xia’s release comes as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is visiting Germany, a country that has urged Beijing to free her. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China and has raised Liu Xia’s case with Chinese officials, including during a visit in May, people familiar with the matter said.
Liu’s close friends Gao Yu, a veteran journalist in Beijing, and Wu Yangwei, better known by his pen name Ye Du, said Liu Xia took a Finnair flight to Berlin on Tuesday morning. Wu said he spoke to Liu Xia’s older brother, Liu Tong.
“Liu Xia has been kept isolated for so many years,” Wu said by phone from the southern city of Guangzhou. “I hope that being in a free country will allow Liu Xia to heal her long-standing traumas and wounds.”
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Liu left for Germany to seek “medical treatment on her own accord.”
Liu Xia is an accomplished artist and poet who reluctantly followed her husband into politics two decades ago. In 2009, China sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on a charge of inciting subversion after he helped write Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalization.
Liu was awarded the Nobel prize on Oct. 8, 2010. As soon as Liu Xia returned home from visiting her husband in prison that month, she was confined in her duplex, fifth-floor apartment in Beijing and denied access to a phone and the internet.
At first, she was optimistic her confinement would be brief, telling AP reporters at the time: “I believe they won’t go on like this forever.”
But the days turned into months, and then years.