China stages ‘hasty’ cremation of Liu Xiaobo and has his ashes scattered at sea
Activists outraged at ‘humiliating’ arrangements, as Nobel laureate’s brother appears at press conference to thank Communist Party
Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody on Thursday, was cremated and had his ashes scattered at sea on Saturday in a state-choreographed service that friends and activists said was aimed at preventing supporters from honouring him.
“It was a deliberate move by the Chinese government to hastily arrange the funeral so no one could visit his body, which would evoke the most memories,” said activist Hu Jia. “It’s humiliating to a Nobel winner.”
Bao Tong, a former top aide to late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, said the rush to hold a funeral and cremation was because authorities were “afraid of uncontrollable consequences”.
After a short memorial service, the Shenyang city government held a press conference for foreign media at which Liu’s eldest brother, Liu Xiaoguang, expressed his gratitude to the party – which imposed the 11-year jail term on his sibling and denied him overseas treatment – for catering to the family’s wishes on medical care and funeral arrangements. He described the funeral as “perfect”.
Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia – who was not at the press conference and can be seen in official video footage of the service being supported by her brother, Liu Hui – wished to thank the media for their “heartfelt” care, Liu Xiaoguang said. He added that Liu Xia was frail and needed medical attention.
The 56-year-old has been under house arrest since 2010, after her husband was jailed in 2009 on subversion charges for his part in drafting pro-democracy manifesto “Charter 08”. There have been mounting calls for her to be allowed to leave China.
A Shenyang official said Liu Xia was “free” but needed time to mourn alone. Friends said they had not been able to contact her. Bao said she should be allowed to leave as “Xiaobo no longer poses a threat”.
The activist died aged 61 of multiple organ failure after being diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May and released from jail on medical parole. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while he was in Jinzhou Prison, Liaoning province.
News of the funeral came at around 8am, when Shenyang officials revealed his body had already been cremated in the morning, 40km away from where foreign media were directed.
Officials held the second briefing attended by Liu Xiaoguang at 4.30pm, announcing that the late dissident’s ashes had been scattered at sea. Human rights activists said they believed the sea burial was done to avoid having a proper grave for Liu.
Dissidents and friends of the family said they were shocked to see his older brother thanking the government as they watched the conference live online. Seated between two officials, Liu Xiaoguang said: “From the medical treatment to the scattering of the ashes, the Chinese Communist Party and the government handled everything completely according to the relatives’ wishes.”
He praised the authorities and said their treatment had been “humane”, but did not take questions from the media.
Writer and family friend Ye Du said Liu Xiaoguang “knew nothing about him as he cut ties with Liu Xiaobo after the June 4, 1989 protests”. Liu was earlier jailed for his part in the Tiananmen Square protests . Ye said “friends” shown at the funeral service appeared to be state security officers.
Some activists, including Hu, were reportedly barred from leaving their homes to attend the funeral.
In Hong Kong, about 2,500 people, according to police numbers, clad in black and holding white flowers or candles, marched to the central government’s liaison office on Saturday night to commemorate Liu. The rally began at Chater Garden in Central, where the democracy campaigner and human rights activist’s famous statement, “I Have No Enemies” was read out. The march was organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.
One of the marchers, surnamed Chong, was undeterred by the heat and intermittent rain as he took part with his son. “Not giving a person due respect even after they have died is not what civilised societies do,” Chong said. “China often says it’s a strong country, but where does it show its strength? Why is it so afraid of people with different opinions?”
Another marcher, surnamed Kwok, said she did not believe Liu’s family would have wanted him to be cremated so fast, or for his ashes to be scattered at sea.
“[Liu] shouldn’t have been jailed and he shouldn’t have died,” she said, adding that for the authorities to say they had acted in accordance with the family’s wishes was “so chilling and evil”.
Additional reporting by Reuters