BEIJING (Reuters) - Liu Xia, the widow of late Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo, left China for Germany on Tuesday, a friend told Reuters, in news welcomed by rights groups who had pressed for her release from house arrest.
Liu Xia was on a Finnair flight bound for Helsinki that left Beijing at around 11 a.m. (0300 GMT), Ye Du, a writer and friend, told Reuters. Ye said he was informed of Liu’s departure by her older brother.
Liu Xia had left to “start her new life” in Europe, her younger brother, Liu Hui, said on his WeChat account, according to a screenshot of the message shown to Reuters by a friend who declined to be identified.
Her departure, following a year of pressure on the government from activists and international human rights organizations, comes at the end of a visit to Germany by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. He was due to leave Germany on Tuesday.
Germany has been pushing China to let Liu leave following the death of her husband on July 13, 2017, from liver cancer while in Chinese custody, Western diplomats have said.
Officials at the German embassy in Beijing said they were unable to confirm the news when contacted by Reuters. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Liu Xia, a poet and artist who suffers from depression, had been under house arrest since 2010 when Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who was sentenced to a 11-year prison term in 2009 for inciting subversion, was awarded the Peace Prize.
China has repeatedly said Liu Xia is free and accorded all rights guaranteed to her by law.
Johnny Lau, a political commentator based in Hong Kong, said he believed the authorities had let her leave in order to avoid her case sparking a “surge” of pressure on China around the July 13 anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death.
China has been seeking to bolster its ties with the European Union amid a trade war with the United States.
“A trade war has also broken out between China and the United States. China hopes to team up with Germany against the United States,” he said.
“Now China has made use of an opportunity to do Germany a favor so as to strengthen the Sino-German relationship.”
Liu Xia’s departure from China was “wonderful news” but harassment of her family remained a risk to her freedom to criticize China, Amnesty International’s China researcher Patrick Poon said.
Her brother, Liu Hui, who was handed an 11-year jail sentence for fraud in 2013. He was later released but remained closely monitored, according to friends of the family, and is still in China.
“It’s worrying that her brother Liu Hui is still kept in China. Liu Xia might not be able to speak much for fear of her brother’s safety,” Poon said.
Western diplomats have said that authorities had continued to closely monitor Liu Xia after the death of her husband and she had only able to meet and speak to friends and family in pre-arranged phone calls and visits.
A friend of Liu Xia told Reuters in May that she was losing hope of leaving the country.