The Chinese activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has died at the age of 61, the government has said.
The country’s most famous political prisoner was being treated for terminal liver cancer in a heavily-guarded hospital in north-east China. Mr Liu had been transferred from prison last month where he was serving an 11-year term for “subversion”.
Mr Liu might be a name rarely uttered in the west but many argue the unsung hero must be remembered alongside the other big name dissidents of the 20th century.
The human rights activist, who took part in the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square demonstrations, was arrested in 2008 after writing a pro-democracy manifesto titled Charter 08 in which he called for an end to one-party rule and advances in human rights. It was signed by thousands of people in China.
After a year in detention and a two-hour trial, he was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power”.
Colleagues and democracy activists say he was then held incommunicado in an attempt to do away with any memory of him.
Mr Liu was awarded the Nobel Prize back in 2010 while imprisoned but his family were barred from travelling to Norway to accept the award. Instead the accolade was bestowed to an empty chair – a move which later became a key symbol of China’s repression.
Upon hearing the news of his passing, the Norweigan Nobel committee which awards the prize has said the Chinese government bears “heavy responsibility” for Mr Liu’s “premature” death.
In the weeks ahead of his death, the case gained increasing international attention. World leaders such as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen called upon China to permit the democracy activist to travel abroad to receive palliative care which supporters argue could have extended his life.
At the time, critics argued China’s reluctance to let him travel overseas was prompted by fears he would voice his frustrations with the People’s Republic of China from his deathbed.
Patrick Poon, who works as a researcher for Amnesty China, said Mr Liu’s friends told him they had attempted to visit him in hospital but were barred by security guards there.
Mr Poon said he was deeply saddened to hear of Mr Lui’s pasing, saying: “He is one of the most respected human rights defenders in China. His writings and courage have inspired many people, even nowadays among many human rights activists in China.”
“He will definitely be missed by many fellow human rights defenders,” he added. “Although the Chinese authorities attempt to create a lot of difficulties, such as blocking foreign websites and news channels, to make sure people in China don’t hear anything about all his good things, many people who are interested in human rights and universal values can find ways to learn more about him.”
Mr Poon fondly recalled speaking to him several years back and hearing his words of encouragement.
“I was lucky to have a chance to talk to him once in 2008,” he said. “He knew that I was working at a human rights organization in Hong Kong, which was founded by some pro-democracy legislators and lawyers in Hong Kong. He was very encouraging and even asked me to keep up my work when he had already experienced so many years of pressure and surveillance by the authorities. I was really touched and will never forget my short conversation with him.”
Born in December 1955, in Jilin Province, in north-east China, Mr Liu was the son of a professor who remained a loyal Communist Party member despite the fact his son dedicated his life to breaking ranks and actively disobeying the party line.
Mr Liu’s life was punctuated by detention, surveillance and conflict with the government. On top of this, the police have kept his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest and she has been barred from speaking out about Mr Liu’s death and cancer treatment.
Along with countless others, Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, has paid tribute to the dissident in a statement: “Today we grieve the loss of a giant of human rights. Liu Xiaobo was a man of fierce intellect, principle, wit and above all humanity.
“For decades, he fought tirelessly to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms in China. He did so in the face of the most relentless and often brutal opposition from the Chinese government. Time and again they tried to silence him, and time and again they failed. Despite enduring years of persecution, suppression and imprisonment, Liu Xiaobo continued to fight for his convictions.
“Although he has passed, everything he stood for still endures. The greatest tribute we can now pay him is to continue the struggle for human rights in China and recognise the powerful legacy he leaves behind. Thanks to Liu Xiaobo, millions of people in China and across the world have been inspired to stand up for freedom and justice in the face of oppression.”