BERLIN.- In the fall of 2010, Liu Xia traveled to a prison in northeast China to tell her husband, dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo, that he had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That was the last time she left home as a free woman. Until now.
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.
As Liu Xia came off a plane in Helsinki, Finland, to transfer to a flight to Berlin, she spread her arms and grinned widely at a waiting photographer. A few hours later, she was seen getting into a car at Berlin’s Tegel airport.
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The release of Liu Xia, who was never charged with a crime, results from years of campaigning by Western governments and activists and comes just days before the one-year anniversary Friday of Liu Xiaobo’s death. Liu’s 11-year prison sentence and his wife’s subsequent detention in her home had become glaring symbols of the authoritarian government’s determination to prevent the couple from inspiring other Chinese.
“Sister has already left Beijing for Europe at noon to start her new life,” wrote Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, on a social media site. “Thanks to everyone who has helped and cared for her these few years. I hope from now on her life is peaceful and happy.”
Liu Xia arrived in Germany while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is on an official state visit to the country, which is among the ones that urged Beijing to free her.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets regularly with dissidents during visits to China and had raised Liu Xia’s case with Chinese officials, including during a visit in May, people familiar with the matter said.
Liu’s close friends Gao Yu, a veteran journalist in Beijing, and Wu Yangwei, better known by his pen name Ye Du, said Liu Xia left on a Finnair flight Tuesday morning. Wu said he spoke to Liu Xia’s older brother, Liu Tong.
“Liu Xia has been kept isolated for so many years,” Wu said by phone from the southern city of Guangzhou. “I hope that being in a free country will allow Liu Xia to heal her long-standing traumas and wounds.”
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Liu left for Germany to seek “medical treatment on her own accord.”