Tributes have been pouring in for Chinese dissident and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who spent over eight years in prison for his political writings and died on Thursday (13th July), aged 61.
Lui, a literary critic, known for his essays commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests on 4th June, had been serving an 11-year sentence in Jinzhou prison in northeast China for "inciting subversion of state power". He died from late-stage liver cancer at Shenyang Hospital, Liaoning province, where he had been receiving medical treatment since June of this year.
Charter 08, a manifesto he helped draft calling for political change in China in 2008, was initially signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists. He was arrested for inciting subversion in December 2008 and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in December 2009. In October 2010, Lui won the Nobel Peace Prize, but his wife, poet and artist Liu Xia, was then placed under house arrest, where she continues to be held without charge.
English PEN, which has campaigned for his release with the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, said it was "devastated" to hear the news of Lui's death. It believed Liu had been held for "peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion, expression and association".
Jennifer Clement, PEN president, said: "On this sad day I remember the 2010 image of the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, sitting beside Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma on an empty chair – PEN’s symbol for imprisoned writers. On that day the world honoured and celebrated Liu Xiaobo’s courage as it does again today. Liu once said, ‘I hope I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crimes’. We must continue to uphold his dream."
Turkish writer Elif Shafak hailed Lui "a brave and generous soul who dared to stand for freedom", and UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy praised him for his work, power, courage and love with thanks for "everything you have done in your fight for a better world".
Duffy said in tribute to Lui, who had continued to write poetry from prison: "In one of your poems, you write of the ‘cold and indifferent moon’. The same sky with this moon in it reaches over all of us, over you and me, over my freedom and your oppression. What we have in common is as various as our differences, but one of thing we share is our belief in the power of writing to challenge those things that limit, oppress, destroy, and deny. I am sorry that you have experienced this denial, this oppression so directly, but I want you to know that – whilst your punishment has attempted to reduce you – in my eyes you are magnified inside your work, your power, your courage, and your love. Thank you for everything you have done in your fight for a better world."
In Lui's 2010 Nobel Prize lecture, translated by J. Latourelle, he had written: "I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well; where different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist; where both majority and minority views will be equally guaranteed, and where the political views that differ from those currently in power, in particular, will be fully respected and protected; where all political views will spread out under the sun for people to choose from, where every citizen can state political views without fear, and where no one can under any circumstances suffer political persecution for voicing divergent political views.
"I hope that I will be the last victim of China's endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech."
Angela Gui, whose Prix Voltaire-shortlisted father, Gui Minhai, is still missing after his abduction in October 2015 by Chinese authorities for publishing and selling politically "sensitive" books, has tweeted: "So very heartbroken to hear about Liu Xiaobo. May the world never forget him."