China: Liu Xia free and on her way to Germany

China: Liu Xia free and on her way to Germany

China allowed the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to be freed from house arrest and leave for Berlin today, her relatives and close friends said, ending an eight-year ordeal that drove the poet into depression and drew intense criticism of Beijing's human rights record.

China allowed her to leave the country Tuesday, ending an eight-year house arrest that made the soft-spoken, chain-smoking 57-year-old poet with a shaven head a tragic icon known around the world. She has never been charged with any crime. A few hours later, she was seen getting into a auto at Berlin's Tegel airport.

It also comes just days before the first anniversary of Liu Xiaobo's death, an occasion that was expected to draw fresh attention to her detention. Chinese authorities repeatedly declined to discuss Liu Xia's confinement, which critics say was cruel and illegal. Her brother, Liu Hui, was not on the plane, they said.

Poon, citing an unnamed source, said Liu had been allowed to leave but her brother, Liu Hui has to remain in Beijing.

In May, Berlin officials again said that should Liu Xia choose to go to Germany, she would be welcome there.

She took a Finnair flight from Beijing to Berlin at 11:00 local time (03:00 GMT) on Tuesday, a friend, Ye Du, told news agencies.

While news and information about the couple are strictly censored in mainland China, people in Hong Kong took to Facebook to send their good wishes to Liu Xia. "Liu Xia has been kept isolated for so many years", said Wu by phone from the southern city of Guangzhou.

Liu was believed to be reluctant to leave China over the safety of her family.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Liu left for Germany to seek "medical treatment on her own accord". In 2009, China sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on a charge of inciting subversion after he helped write Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalization.

Liu was awarded the Nobel on October 8, 2010. Occasionally, she could write to or call friends, reports said.

The United Nations, United States, European Union and other foreign governments and groups have urged China to lift restrictions on Liu Xia's movements.

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Efforts to secure Liu Xia's departure came amid growing concern over her health and state of mind, after Liao Yiwu, a dissident and friend living in Germany, released details of a telephone conversation in April in which an anguished Liu Xia said she was losing hope of leaving.

Read | Who was Liu Xiaobo?

"It's easier to die than live".

"My sister has left Beijing to fly to Europe".

China's Foreign Ministry later confirmed her departure, saying she left the country "by her own free will" for medical treatment.

Liu Hui is in China.

Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher at Amnesty International, said he hopes the widow's apparent release assuages the mental anguish she is reported to have endured.

"Liu Xia has been suffering from depression and under tight surveillance for so many years", he said.

Last year, she appeared pale, gaunt and sombre in images released by the authorities as she cared for Liu Xiaobo just before his death from liver cancer in a hospital under police custody. She was shown at his closely staged funeral dressed in black and wearing dark sunglasses as she clutched a photograph of her husband.

Liu Xiaobo is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The first, Carl von Ossietzky, died of tuberculosis in Germany in 1938 while jailed for opposing Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

"I'm in a sea of joy", said veteran activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung as he drank a toast to her. While in Beijing in May, German chancellor Angela Merkel met with the wife of a detained human rights lawyer.

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