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Chinese police guard late dissident's home, empty or not
By Yanan WANG, Joanna CHIU
Beijing (AFP) July 22, 2017

Late Chinese Nobel laureate's friends hold defiant memorial
Beijing (AFP) July 20, 2017 - Under the shadow of heavy police surveillance, around 20 close friends of China's late Nobel laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo have held a defiant private memorial in Beijing.

Since the prominent democracy activist died of liver cancer in custody last week, his Chinese supporters say they have been barred from leaving their homes or organising commemorative events, while censors have blocked online tributes.

But on the seventh day following Liu's death -- an important milestone for the deceased in traditional Chinese culture -- the group gathered Wednesday evening for a two-and-half-hour ceremony in which they shared memories of the man.

"Xiaobo is gone, but we are still alive," Jin Yan, one of the attendees, said at the memorial, according to a statement released by the organisers on Thursday.

"During the democracy movement in Eastern Europe, many people were killed or sent to the mental hospital. But they had a saying within the movement: between the living and the dead, there's a moral contract. The living has an obligation to complete what the dead started."

Public gatherings to commemorate the deaths of prominent dissidents are rare.

In the past, those who took part in memorials have been subjected to questioning, detention and in some cases even charged with the crime of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for "subversion" after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms in Communist Party-ruled China.

The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but he was not allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo.

Two days after his death, officials released a video of Liu's wife and relatives lowering an urn containing his ashes into the sea, an non-traditional form of burial in China which friends saw as a way to deprive his supporters of a pilgrimage site.

- 'Too brave' -

A photo of the event in Beijing shows around 20 people in a room, holding candles and photos of the bespectacled writer. His portrait was placed on a wall, flanked by flowers. Another image shows the group bowing their heads.

An attendee who asked not to be named said state security officers stood guard outside the building, while some mourners were driven to the site in police cars.

Still others were prevented by police from participating in the memorial.

"(Liu) lived just 60 years, with the last 30 years full of frustrations and suffering," said Xu Xiao, another attendee, according to the statement.

"Rather than say that the regime is too cruel, we may say that Liu Xiaobo was too brave."

Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP about a dozen of Liu's supporters have been questioned or "invited to have tea by police officers" in recent weeks.

- Where is Liu Xia? -

Friends are now worried about the fate of the Nobel laureate's widow, the poet Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010.

Authorities have claimed that Liu Xia is "free", but her friends have not been able to contact her since her husband died in a hospital in northeast China on July 13.

Authorities have brought Liu and her brother to the southwestern province of Yunnan for "tourism", the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong said in a statement Thursday, citing the widow's relatives.

"I also heard from friends that Liu Xia and her brother are in Yunnan under police control. Liu Xiaobo's brothers are back home under police surveillance," activist Ye Du told AFP.

At her apartment building in Beijing, plainclothes guards have kept foreign journalists at bay this week.

At a small park outside the Beijing home of late Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, security officers sat around a stone table surrounded by shrubbery, scrutinising everyone who neared the gate they guarded.

More than a week after the Nobel Peace Prize winner succumbed to liver cancer in custody, four agents stood watch on the stoop of the apartment where his widow, the poet Liu Xia, has largely been kept under house arrest since 2010.

Their presence contradicts official claims last weekend that Liu Xia, 56, is "free".

She appeared in a government-released video on July 15 showing her husband's sea burial in the coastal city of Dalian, but close friends have been unable to reach her and believe that she is under police control in southern Yunnan province.

But the medley of uniformed and plainclothes officers outside her home on Friday were undeterred in their surveillance -- even if they may have been guarding an empty apartment.

"Where are you going?" a man wearing a "special duty" uniform asked two middle-aged women who approached.

"We live here," one of them retorted, as if accustomed to the question.

On the other side of the gate, a uniformed officer sat in a chair parked outside the entrance to Liu Xia's apartment.

Three other men sat inside the dark entranceway, including one eating a bowl of noodles.

They all stood up when an AFP reporter approached.

"What are you doing here? You don't live in this neighbourhood," said the uniformed officer, gesturing for the reporter to leave.

Outside the gate, security agents talked among themselves as they waited for their lunch break.

"Yesterday there were five to six reporters who came," a middle-aged man said to the group. He wore a black T-shirt, the preferred attire of plainclothes agents.

"Those foreigners just come here to make trouble. They want to take photos of everything. Lunch time is rush hour for them, then things die down after 7 p.m."

Earlier that day, a four-person foreign television crew had come through one of the complex's main gates.

They were soon surrounded by officers in both black and green uniforms.

"Do you know who Liu Xia is?" one of the journalists asked a guard, who barked back: "Never have I met anyone as rude as you!"

At around the same time, an AFP photographer was held by police who asked him to delete three photos he had taken of the apartment exterior.

He did not comply, and was shortly released.

- Business as usual -

All was calm on the riverfront boardwalk that Liu Xia's apartment overlooked, as joggers, bikers and fishermen alike appeared to be unaware of the commotion on the other side of the gate.

The Chinese government has erased virtually all mentions of Liu Xiaobo, a 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran, from the internet and domestic media.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for "subversion" after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms in the Communist Party-ruled country.

The following year, he became the first Chinese person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was not allowed to attend the ceremony in Oslo.

"I don't know who (Liu Xia or Liu Xiaobo) is," said a young woman who lived in the apartment complex.

"Many government employees live in this compound. The guards are here for their safety," she said.

An elderly man collecting trash on the boardwalk said he believed it was the building's proximity to Beijing's main thoroughfare that brought increased security.

"And I think (Chinese President) Xi Jinping was here?"

UN rights chief pressures China on dissident widow's fate
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 20, 2017 - UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Thursday he plans to meet with Chinese officials to push for assurances that the widow of late dissident Liu Xiaobo will be allowed to leave China.

Zeid came under fierce criticism from Beijing for his tribute to the Nobel laureate as a "principled champion" who "was jailed for standing up for his beliefs."

A veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Liu died on July 13 of liver cancer while in police custody at a hospital in northeast China.

Zeid told reporters that he intends to meet with Chinese officials soon to discuss the fate of his widow, Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010.

"We are now focused on his wife and trying to ensure that she has freedom of movement," Zeid told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

"If she wants to leave China, she should be able to leave China."

The UN human rights commissioner rejected Chinese claims that raising human rights concerns amounted to interference in domestic affairs.

"We hold up a mirror," he said of his office's statements on human rights violations worldwide.

Chinese officials have claimed that Liu Xia's freedom of movement has not been impeded "but the feeling was that she was being restricted," said Zeid.

"We want to use this moment to assure ourselves that she is able to leave if she wants to."

The United States and the European Union have also called on the government to free Liu Xia, a poet who has stayed out of politics. She has been under police watch since shortly after her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's ashes buried at sea
Shenyang, China (AFP) July 15, 2017
The ashes of China's late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo were buried at sea on Saturday, depriving his supporters of a place to pay tribute to the pro-democracy dissident. Officials showed a video in which his wife, Liu Xia, and relatives lowered a white round urn into the water off the northeastern coastal city of Dalian, two days after the democracy advocate died of liver cancer aged 61 while i ... read more

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