- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2017

Imprisoned for the last eight years of his life, his name erased from Chinese news reports and public records, Liu Xiaobo was a deliberately silenced man. But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s death from liver cancer Thursday only intensified the public outcry over the causes he devoted his life to, as scholars, activists and governments around the world condemned Beijing for its treatment of the 61-year-old dissident.

U.S. lawmakers, human rights groups and democracy activists in China itself all weighed in on Mr. Liu’s death, China’s most famous political prisoner who succumbed quickly to his disease just weeks after his release from prison. The death also comes as the government of President Xi Jinping has made a conscious effort to boost China’s “soft power” with such initiatives as the One Belt, One Road program and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Sen. Marco Rubio was one of a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill sharply critical of Beijing’s treatment of Mr. Liu.

“There should be an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Dr. Liu’s death, his treatment in detention, the timing of the diagnosis of his late-stage liver cancer, and countless other questions that need to be answered,” the Florida Republican said in a statement. “The Chinese authorities complicit in his unjust imprisonment and death should be immediately sanctioned and their assets frozen under” U.S. laws, he said.

President Trump, in a White House statement released Thursday evening, said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr. Liu’s death, calling him a “political prisoner” who “dedicated his life to the pursuit of democracy and liberty.”

Mr. Trump did not directly refer to China’s treatment of Mr. Liu, but the White House earlier this week had called on Beijing to end the confinement for both Mr. Liu and his wife, so the ailing dissident could pursue the medical care of his choosing. 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is deeply distrusted by Beijing for her advocacy of Taiwan’s independence, praised Mr. Liu’s activism and exhorted China to adopt democratic reforms.

 “We hope the mainland Chinese authorities will display the self-confidence to grant the people of mainland China the natural right of democracy and freedom,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Meanwhile, democratic activists in Hong Kong reacted to his death by protesting outside the Chinese central government representative’s office in Hong Kong, The Associated Press reported. 

Mr. Liu died in a Shenyang hospital, with guards hovering near his sickbed. By the time the Chinese government granted him medical parole in late June, the government said little could be done to save him. But according to Mr. Liu’s lawyer, Jared Genser, the Chinese government denied him the right to travel abroad for medical attention. 

“This is shameful,” said Michael Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. He likened Mr. Liu’s death to that of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who was imprisoned in North Korea and later sent back home while in a coma — he died a few days later.

“It’s a reminder that we’re dealing with a communist dictatorship,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

China’s Foreign Ministry sharply rejected the flood of foreign criticism over its treatment of Mr. Liu, contending the government had made “all-out efforts” to treat Mr. Liu after he was diagnosed with liver cancer while in prison.

Foreign countries “are in no position to make improper remarks” on the Liu case, the ministry said in a statement, adding that Beijing considers the issue as a domestic affair.

Mr. Liu, a respected scholar and critic, first broke with the government when he strongly support of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests that were violently suppressed by the government in 1989. His final imprisonment began in 2008, when Chinese officials arrested him for promoting Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms. He was later charged with inciting subversion.

But his arrest could not curb his influence. In 2010, to the fury of officials in Beijing, Mr. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, though he was not allowed to receive the award in person. An empty chair stood in his place at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, joined the voices protesting Mr. Liu’s treatment and death.

“The Chinese Government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen told Reuters.

Mr. Liu was a visiting scholar at Columbia University when the Tiananmen Square protests broke out in 1989. He left the U.S. immediately to support the demonstrators. He was jailed twice before his final incarceration, including a three-year stint in a labor camp during the mid-1990s. After he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest and officials forbade her to discuss her husband’s death or condition.

Several Western governments and the U.N.’s top human rights official called on China on Thursday to allow Mrs. Liu to be allowed to leave China now that her husband has died.

Mr. Gonzalez said Mr. Liu’s treatment should be a permanent mark on China’s international record, because it signifies a widespread human rights repression in the country.

“How can we expect the Chinese government to be accountable to us if it’s not accountable to its own people?” he asked.

— Dave Boyer contributed to this report. 


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