Shenyang, China | AFP | The body of China’s late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was cremated Saturday after a private ceremony attended by his family, as Beijing faces international pressure to let the dissident’s wife leave the country.
Liu’s remains were incinerated “in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs” in the northeastern city of Shenyang, said Zhang Qingyang, an official from the municipal office.
Officials released photos showing his wife, the poet Liu Xia, with her brother, and two of Liu Xiaobo’s brothers in front of the body, which was covered with white petals and surrounded by flowers at a funeral home.
Zhang also said “friends” were at the ceremony, but Amnesty International’s China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP that he did not recognise any of the row of non-family members in the official photo and people close to the Liu couple identified at least one “state security police officer” among them.
Chinese dissident artist critic Ai Weiwi, who lives in Berlin tweeted a photo of the funeral and called the display “disgusting” and a “violation” of the deceased.
China’s government faced a global backlash for denying the democracy advocate’s wish to be treated abroad. After his death, the United States and European Union called on Beijing to free Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010, and let her leave the country.
“As far as I know, Liu Xia is in a free condition,” Zhang said, though it was unclear whether she was released as he did not answer questions about her whereabouts.
Authorities have severely restricted Liu Xia’s contact with the outside world and Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represented the Nobel Peace Prize winner, said she has been held “incommunicado” since her husband’s death.
“The most preposterous thing is that even during his cremation and funeral he still was not free. And now it’s been passed on to his wife, who will continue to lead on that same freedom-less existence,” Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and family friend, told AFP.
– Rescue her ‘fast’ –
Liu was jailed in 2008 after co-writing a petition calling for democratic reforms. The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion” a year later.
He died of multiple organ failure at a Shenyang hospital on Thursday at age 61, more than a month after he was transferred from prison due to late-stage liver cancer.
At his funeral, Mozart’s Requiem was played and Liu Xia “fixed her eyes on him a long time, mumbling to say farewell,” Zhang said, adding that she was “in very low spirits”.
“She has just lost her husband, so she is currently emotionally grieving,” Zhang said.
“It’s best for her not to receive too much outside interference during this period after Liu Xiaobo has died,” he said.
Zhang said authorities would release information about where Liu Xiaobo’s ashes will be taken “at an appropriate time”.
Genser said Liu Xia has been held for seven years even though she has never been charged with any crime.
“The world needs to mobilise to rescue her – and fast,” he said in a statement.
Another family friend and activist, Ye Du, also cast doubt that she was released: “Liu Xia has never been free. There’s no doubt about that.”
The foreign ministry lashed out at the international criticism on Friday, saying it lodged official protests with the United States, Germany, France and the United Nations human rights office.
The foreign ministry said giving Liu the Nobel Peace Prize was “blasphemy” while state-run media has called him a “convicted criminal”.
“His influence has breached the fundamental moral principle of Chinese patriotism and posed a challenge to China’s stability and national security,” the nationalist Global Times tabloid said in an editorial. “This is why the Chinese society opposes and despises him.”