Yesterday the world lost a hero of liberty and freedom. Liu Xiaobo, a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the oppressed in Communist China, passed away. Although the physical cause of his death was cancer, Dr. Liu’s primary battle was one of the soul. Ever since leaving the safety and comfort of America to lead the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Dr. Liu sealed his fate as a persistent focus of persecution from the authoritarian PRC. From “reeducation through labor” and deprivation of property to unjust imprisonment and physical abuse, Dr. Liu bore the brunt of the Communist Party’s wrath for daring to challenge their system of political oppression by coauthoring of “Charter 08,” a manifesto of Chinese freedom that reverberates today more than ever.
Before his soul passed on from this world, Dr. Liu had one dying wish: to spend his final days with his wife Liu Xia in America. International physicians, including one from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, attested that Dr. Liu was fit to travel if released immediately. One man stood in the way of this final request: Xi Jinping. China has been known in select circumstances to release wrongfully imprisoned foreigners, and even the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un allowed Otto Warmbier to spend his final hours with his family. But something about Liu Xiaobo seemed particularly threatening to Xi and the apparatchiks in the Chinese Politburo. Perhaps it was his dignified commitment to speaking the truth about their regime in the face of every attempt on their part to silence him, something that Beijing has been so successful in doing with tens of millions of others since the founding of the PRC.
As we grieve his loss, our immediate focus must be his widow Liu Xia. Because Xi Jinping refused their departure to America, their rightfully earned Nobel-prize money remains unclaimed, and Liu Xia is in danger. Although it is of no consolation regarding the death of her husband, I was pleased to hear yesterday from Liu Xiaobo’s counsel that the Norwegian Nobel Institute has now confirmed that it has found a legal way for Liu Xia to be able to inherit the $1.5 million monetary award for the Nobel Peace Prize that Liu Xiaobo was never able to collect. I intend to continue my longstanding effort to honor Liu Xiaobo and to secure Liu Xia’s livelihood, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat: If there is a cause that should unite us all, it is that the wife a Nobel Peace laureate speaking out for peace and democracy should not be kept hostage in Communist China.