BEIJING/HONG KONG/BERLIN – China warned supporters of Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo not to mark Friday’s anniversary of his death, while rights activists in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong and in Berlin where his widow arrived on Tuesday gathered to keep his memory alive.
Liu died aged 61 on July 13 last year in a hospital in the northern city of Shenyang under close guard by security agents, after he was denied permission to leave China for treatment for late-stage liver cancer.
He had been jailed in 2009 for “inciting subversion” after he helped write and circulate a pro-democratic reform proposal known as “Charter 08,” his last major act in a long career of activism beginning during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing.
Supporters of Liu and his widow, Liu Xia, in China said they had been unable to organize any large event to mark the day and some have been “vacationed” by the authorities, a common practice where security agents take prominent dissidents away from cities during sensitive events to keep them quiet.
Hu Jia, a Beijing-based dissident who knew Liu Xiaobo, told Reuters on Sunday that he was going to be taken to Chongli, four hours outside of Beijing.
“They said I could not go near the sea,” he said.
Liu Xiaobo was given an ocean burial, which prompted activists to flock to their nearest sea-shore to stage protests.
Three other friends or supporters of Liu, who declined to be named, told Reuters that they had been contacted by the authorities and told not to host memorial events or protests to mark the date.
Chinese state security could not be contacted for comment as they do not have a publicly listed number. China’s ministry of state security did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
In Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997 with various freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, hundreds of people gathered for a night vigil close to government headquarters.
“China’s government is afraid because they cannot wipe out the spirit of Liu Xiaobo,” said Albert Ho of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
“His suffering represents the suffering of the whole nation,” he added.
Scores of people carried banners with a picture of the smiling dissident that read “Remember Liu Xiaobo.”
In self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as sovereign territory, dozens attended an event unveiling an installation commemorating Liu in a park near Taipei’s city hall.
Among those who attended was Wu’er Kaixi, one of the best known dissidents from the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing almost 30 years ago.
“Taiwan is on the front line directly facing China’s threat of dictatorship and Taiwan is also the most accomplished place when it comes to fighting for freedoms and democracy,” he told Reuters.
The anniversary comes just three days after Liu Xia arrived in Berlin, news welcomed by rights groups who had long pressed for China to let her leave what was effectively house arrest.
“Liu Xia’s body is freed. But her mental state isn’t because she is still worried about her brother Liu Hui,” Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung said.
Liu Hui was jailed in 2013 for 11 years for fraud. Liu Xia did not attend a memorial event in Berlin to mark her husband’s first anniversary due to her poor health and fear of censorship, people close to her said.
“Although Liu Xia would have loved to be here, she is not able to. She cannot enjoy freedom as such. I am sure you all know the reason,” Tienchi Martin-Liao, a Berlin-based Chinese author and a close friend of the couple, told Reuters.
At Berlin’s Gethsemane church which was one of the important refuges for East German dissidents in communist Germany before the fall of Berlin wall in 1989, human rights activists gathered on Friday and called on China to free its political prisoners.
“We hope that China changes its mind about human rights and individuality,” Herta Mueller, a German Nobel Prize laureate said.
“I am just hoping it’s going to be the beginning of the end,” Hungken Chien, 47, a Taiwanese father who attended the event with his family said. “I am sure the Chinese government doesn’t really care whether Liu is free or not but they definitely want to get something out of it.”
Liu’s release coincided with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Berlin, where he met Chancellor Angela Merkel and signed several commercial accords worth some €20 billion.