Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate, has died in prison

The last time a government let a Nobel Prize winner die in prison was in Nazi Germany.

Protesters display a portrait of jailed Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his detained wife Liu Xia during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Protesters display a portrait of jailed Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and his detained wife Liu Xia during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Laureate jailed by the Chinese government for promoting democracy and human rights, has died. He was 61.

Last month, the Chinese government revealed that the imprisoned Liu had late-stage liver cancer. Authorities moved him from the prison to a hospital in the northeastern of Shenyang.

The cause of Liu’s death was multiple organ failure, the legal bureau in Shenyang said. The Chinese government resisted efforts for Liu to go abroad for treatment, stating he was too ill. However, doctors from Germany and United States were allowed to examine him for treatment and suggested he should go abroad for palliative care. This week, the German Embassy in Beijing criticized recordings released by the Chinese government suggesting that the foreign doctors agreed with the Chinese government’s argument that Liu was too sick to travel abroad for medical treatment.

As one of China’s most famous political prisoners, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion” after co-authoring Charter 08, which called for peaceful political reform. He was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner while imprisoned. An empty chair represented him at the award ceremony in Oslo.

Liu was also instrumental in rallying dissidents during China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement. According to the Wall Street Journal, Liu “wrote prolifically about the value of individual freedom and nonviolent resistance, despite being banned from publishing inside China.”

Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, was placed under de facto house arrest.

This is the only the second time that a government has allowed a Nobel Prize winner to die in prison, Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Chin pointed out. The last time this happened was under the Nazi regime when Carl von Ossietzky, who was critical of Adolph Hitler, died of tuberculosis in a prison hospital.

Many human rights activists, including the internationally-known Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei took to social media to spread the word of Liu’s death. Ai, who in the days leading up to Liu’s death had criticized the Chinese government for denying treatment, tweeted in Mandarin Chinese for Liu to find peace in death.

“The Chinese government’s arrogance, cruelty, and callousness are shocking — but Liu’s struggle for a rights-respecting, democratic China will live on,” Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

China reportedly cracks down on human rights activists like Liu with unforgiving callousness. More recently, nationwide sweeps have targeted almost 250 human rights lawyers and activists since July 2015, Amnesty International alleged earlier this month. Those imprisoned suffer beatings, lengthy interrogations, and ill treatment, the human rights group said.