International

Enforced silence marks China's anniversary of Liu Xiaobo's death

People around the world marked the one year anniversary of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's death Friday with black ribbons, statements and performance art.

In Hong Kong on Friday, activists attached a picture of Liu to the wall outside the Chinese government's office in the city
In Hong Kong on Friday, activists attached a picture of Liu to the wall outside the Chinese government's office in the city (AFP)

People around the world marked the one year anniversary of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's death Friday with black ribbons, statements and performance art.

But in China, authorities moved to quash any public commemoration of the democracy activist's demise, muzzling his friends and family with warnings, enforced travel orders and surveillance.

The crackdown comes as his widow Liu Xia, 57, tasted her first few days of freedom after eight years under de facto house arrest.

She left Beijing for Berlin Tuesday, escaping the fifth-floor apartment where, despite having never been charged with a crime, plainclothes men had monitored her every move since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, outraging China's ruling Communist party.

A veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, he died from liver cancer last summer while serving an 11-year sentence for "subversion" -- making him the first Nobel winner to die in custody since Nazi Germany.

He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea -- a decision supporters said at the time had been forced upon his family as a way to avoid creating a pilgrimage site where he could be remembered.

Yet even if there had been a tomb to visit, his family would not have been able to go, according to Lu Siqing, who runs the Hong Kong-based website Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

On Friday morning, "public security warned [Liu's] family members not to go to public places to pay their respects," he wrote in a statement sent to AFP, citing a conversation with Liu's sister-in-law Lin Wei.

'Powerless to take action'

Liu's friends in China had no more luck.

"As far as I know, this year the majority of us [supporters] have been put under house arrest and under guard. At the moment we are all powerless to take action," said his close friend Ye Du.

"The police are downstairs watching right now," he told AFP.

Last year after Liu's passing, activist Wei Xiaobing took part in a small, candle-lit memorial by the sea -- and was subsequently detained for a month.

On Thursday, he wrote on Facebook that ahead of the first anniversary, authorities had forcibly sent him from his residence in the southern city of Guangzhou back to his hometown of Chengdu.

"Because I partook in a ceremony for a Nobel laureate... I've been tossed back and forth like this 10 or so times already" in the past year, he said, adding that his father had also been implicated and was now in "deathly despair".

It is a situation often faced by those close to people who have died under what the Communist regime considers politically sensitive circumstances.

The Tiananmen Mothers, an association of parents who lost children when authorities sent tanks to crush peaceful demonstrations in Beijing on June 4, 1989, are also monitored, trailed or forced to travel when that controversial anniversary rolls around.

'Torch of freedom'

Elsewhere, mourners have been free to mark the anniversary.

In Hong Kong on Friday, activists attached a picture of Liu to the wall outside the Chinese government's office in the city. They also tied black ribbons to metal barriers, burned incense and threw paper money traditionally offered to the dead.

At the Louvre Museum in Paris, Chinese cartoonist Badiucao organised a performance in which volunteers held up large cloth prints of the Mona Lisa sporting Liu Xia's glasses and shaved haircut in front of the original painting itself.

In Berlin, a large public memorial is planned, to be attended by Liu Xia's close friend Liao Yiwu -- who posted photos of the newly liberated poet grinning incandescently in a grassy backyard garden.

"We cannot allow the Chinese government to erase Liu Xiaobo's life and legacy," US congressman Chris Smith, the co-chair of the American Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said Thursday.

"In Liu Xiaobo's honour we must unite to condemn Beijing's efforts to silence all those who carry the torch of freedom in China."