BEIJING (AP) — Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, free from house arrest after eight years, has emerged from a plane visibly overjoyed at an airport in Helsinki, Finland.
Liu, a petite, bespectacled poet, was photographed smiling as she entered the terminal in a gray T-shirt under a black and white knit cardigan.
These are the first images of Liu as a free woman since she was placed under house arrest in 2010 after her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In one image, Liu is seen spreading her arms and grinning widely.
Activists in Hong Kong who have been campaigning on Liu Xia’s behalf rejoiced over the news of her release Tuesday.
Three pro-democracy advocates held a news conference by a bronze statue of Liu Xiaobo which they unveiled last month to commemorate the upcoming one-year anniversary of the Nobel Peace laureate’s death in Chinese custody.
Activist Leung Kwok-hung said he was “nearly crying” when he heard that Liu Xia boarded a plane to Germany this morning.
Leung said: “It was such good news for us since we have been here for more than one month to collect signatures for Ms. Liu Xia’s release.”
But Leung also expressed worry that Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, would become a “hostage” while he remains in China.
Human rights groups are cautiously celebrating Liu Xia’s departure from China on Tuesday, as they urge the international community to keep in mind the abuses suffered by her and her late husband, Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International, said Liu Xia is “a very important example of how international pressure still can work on human rights cases in China” at a time when many believe lobbying the country on such issues is futile.
But China Human Rights Defenders researcher Frances Eve said Liu’s release was an “easy win” for China.
Eve said the government sought to “make it seem as though it is a country ruled according to law when everything about her case has shown demonstrably that it is not.”
The Chinese government has confirmed the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has left China for Germany, saying Liu Xia is seeking medical treatment.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that Liu Xia departed to get “medical treatment according to her own will.” Hua provided no further information.á
China has previously criticized calls by Western governments for Liu’s release, saying that foreign countries were making “improper remarks” over what Beijing sees as a domestic affair.
Officials have also insisted that Liu Xia was free to move around — a clear contradiction of the reality on the ground, according to her friends and people who encountered guards blocking their attempts to visit her at her home in Beijing.
A person briefed on the matter says Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, has left China for Europe after eight years under house arrest.
Western governments and activists have urged China for years to release Liu Xia, citing the fact that she has never been charged with any crime.
Chinese authorities put her under house arrest in 2010, days after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded her imprisoned husband the Peace Prize, infuriating the Chinese government.
Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer last July while under government custody, prompting new international calls for Liu Xia’s release.
China sentenced Liu Xiaobo in 2009 to 11 years’ imprisonment on charges of inciting subversion of state power.
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