Liu Xia is now a 'free woman', says exiled Chinese dissident

Liu Xia, widow of the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, has arrived in Berlin after years under unofficial house arrest in China.

The poet has been under unofficial house arrest in China for 8 years

Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo, gestures she arrives at the Helsinki International Airport in Vantaa, Finland, on July 10, 2018. (Jussi Nukari/ Lehtikuva via Associated Press)

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Friends around the world celebrated as Liu Xia, poet and widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, landed at the Helsinki airport, says exiled Chinese activist Yang Jianli. 

Liu Xia had been under house arrest since 2010 when her husband, most known for penning the pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08, was awarded the Nobel. Liu Xiaobo was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for inciting subversion.

Liu Xiaobo died in July 2017 after after being diagnosed with cancer. Human rights groups and activists have long pressed China to set Liu Xia free and leave the country. She will now live in Berlin. 

Yang is a Chinese activist and the founder and president of Initiatives for China. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton from Washington about the release of Liu. 

​Yang Jianli, what was it like for you to see that picture of Liu Xia when she raised her arms in the airport?

I was very happy. I enjoyed the moment together with many, many friends around the world. But at the same time, I felt sad because she was happy simply because she was out of her home country.

That says a lot about her home country. It is just a prison.

Liu Xiaobo speaks during an interview in his home in Beijing. Liu died in July 2017 from cancer. (Video via Associated Press)

What do you know about how she is doing in Germany?

We have a friend on the ground being in touch with her. I bet she's doing very well. You know it's long overdue for her to leave China, to come to the free world.

We worked very hard upon learning her husband was diagnosed of his cancer to get the couple to come to the free world so that he could die as a free man and she could continue her life as a free woman, but we couldn't.

Ever since his death, we have been working very hard with various governments, primarily German government, the U.S. government and many international human rights groups for her freedom.

She had been put under house arrest for nearly eight years for no reason than [marrying] a wrong man. So by wrong man I mean, you know, Liu Xiaobo, Nobel peace laureate and she had suffered as a result. Tremendously.

Chinese dissident Yang Jianli speaks outside the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway. (John McConnico/ Associated Press)

Under house arrest — unofficial house arrest —and after the death of her husband, she had a hard time. She was depressed, she was not doing well.

She suffered so much both physically and psychologically. More psychologically than physically, and she was in deep depression given all the things that happened around her.

She not only lost her husband during the eight years of house arrest. She also lost her parents and her brother — [who is] very close to her — got [an] 11-year sentence for a fabricated crime.

You know that gave her a serious blow.

What do you make of the timing of it? The Chinese premier has been on a visit to Germany. What do you think of the timing of it? Why did it happen now?

We talked to the German embassy in U.S. last week. From the meeting we learned that the decision was made during Chancellor Merkel's visit to Beijing. She raised her case to China's leaders, including Xi Jinping himself and also Premier Li Keqiang.

The only thing undetermined was the timing. So China of course has been trying to find the best timing for them to sell, if I may, to sell this product at [a] higher price.

And they found that, you know, that this is the best timing for them given Li Keqiang's visit in Germany, given Trump would be in Europe for the NATO summit, and also the upcoming China and Europe summit next week.

Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, poses with a photo of her and her husband during an interview at her home in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Should we then assume or read into this that other political prisoners, whether they are imprisoned or kept in their home, that they might be released?

No, this is a single separate case, and just the next day, after Liu Xia left China, another dissident was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

So this shows that Liu Xia's case is a separate case, is an isolated case, simply because of the pressure from Europe, because of the timing they found they want to use Liu Xia to please Europe and also to strengthen Chancellor Merkel's moral stance facing Trump.

Liu Xia can never go back to China then.

I don't think she will. 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Reuters. Produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.