Late Chinese Nobel laureate's friends hold defiant memorial

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  • Liu Xiaobo
    Chinese literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist

Beijing (AFP) - 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.

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