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'Liu Xiaobo knew that he would pay with his life'

A good friend of Liu Xiaobo, human rights activist Tienchi Martin-Liao long fought to obtain the right for him to leave China for Germany. She tells DW how Germany and Europe now have an important role to play.

Picture of Liu Xiaobo (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The Chinese-German human rights activist Tienchi Martin-Liao is president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center - an office she took on as a substitute for Liu Xiabo. She also published his writings and, after the Nobel Prize Laureate's arrest, she remained in close contact with his wife, Liu Xia.

DW reached her shortly after the news of his death on Thursday.

DW: Just like Carl von Ossietzky In 1938, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo died under unbearable conditions, as a prisoner in hospital...

Tienchi Martin-Liao: For Chinese authorities, he remains a criminal. His family is apparently not even allowed to find a grave for him. The few people who dared go to the hospital to visit him have all been arrested. This is such barbarism - I have no words for it. I really can't describe this - it's worse than under the Nazis.

Tienchi Martin Liao (Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe)

Tienchi Martin Liao leads the Independent Chinese PEN Center

What do you believe his death means for his wife, Liu Xia, who's been under house arrest for many years?

I believe we need to do everything possible to save her, otherwise she will not survive. They will isolate her. They will turn her life in such a hell that she will not be able to live much longer. I am fully convinced of this. The Chinese authorities know, of course, that Liu Xia, the person closest to Liu Xiabo, knows more than anyone else.

She only found out recently how sick he was. She spent the last days with him, since June 26. I couldn't tell if they were both surveilled day and night; there were certainly moments where he could whisper information to her, which is why I'm sure that she knows quite a few things. That's why the government will not let her go. She will permanently stay under surveillance, like a dangerous criminal.

Read more: China's Nobel Peace Prize winning dissident Liu Xiaobo dies

Were you in contact with her? 

Liu Xia at the hospital, at Liua Xiaobo's side (picture-alliance/AP)

Liu Xia at the hospital, at Liua Xiaobo's (left) side

No, all forms of communication with her have been cut off since June 26.

Do you still hope that she can come to Germany?

It really depends. Merkel's government has been diplomatically quiet until last week. She probably asked Xi Jinping behind closed doors to provide a better treatment for the Nobel Prize Laureate or to give him permission to travel. But that didn't change anything. Now it's time to use all possible means to free Liu Xia. This woman didn't commit any crime - she shouldn't be imprisoned!

What did China lose with Liu Xiaobo's death?

Through his death, China can no longer be seen as a reliable partner. This cruel, anti-humanitarian treatment shows that China is an unreliable, unpredictable, uncivilized regime. I'm aware that Europe is trying to find a new partner beyond the US with Trump's new world policies, and that's why it's turning to China. But with this act, we can see the regime's true position.

Read more: Opinion: The other China

Tienchin Martin-Liao at an event during the International Literature Festival in Berlin in 2016 (DW/S. Peschel)

Tienchin Martin-Liao at an event during the International Literature Festival in Berlin in 2016

If we continue to do business and develop projects with China as if nothing happened, then that's a betrayal of all morality and humanity, and Europe can no longer claim to be a civilized society. Universal human rights cannot be denied - but China has once again proven how far away it stands from our universal values.

This would have been an opportunity for Xi Jinping: If he had released Liu Xiaobo, he would have gained the confidence and recognition of other countries. But he and his party missed this opportunity.

Do people in China have access to Liu Xiaobo's writings?

They are not widespread, but it is possible to find them in intellectual circles. I hope that people will have the courage to continue to say: "You can't do that with us!" In my opinion, Liu Xiaobo was unique: He knew that he would pay with his freedom and his life if he spoke freely. But he did it nevertheless. I hope that this will inspire his friends and colleagues and the younger generation to stand up and say: "Not with us! We did not commit any crime and you cannot arrest us for only reading Liu Xiaobo's writings!"

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