We did not know him, I guess the vast majority of us, anyway. Not only did he live far, far away, but for most of the time during the last 28 years, he was in jail.
His name was Liu Xiaobo. A Chinese citizen who lived and studied in America, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and yet to those in China he was an intellectual renegade.
That rare distinction, as it turned out, was accorded him for his role in protecting protesters from encroaching soldiers during the student riots at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
And it was for his role in promoting a pro-democracy charter in China that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and a lengthy prison sentence that saw him being locked away in jail.
On Thursday last week while he was in hospital where he was being treated for liver cancer, he passed away. He was 61.
Reports say, the authorities revealed Liu Xiaobo had cancer in late June when the illness was virtually beyond treatment, which was when Mr. Liu was officially granted medical parole.
But even as he faced death, he was kept silenced in the First Hospital of China Medical University, still a captive of the authoritarian controls that he had fought for decades.
According to reports though, Liu Xiaobo is the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate to die in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, the German pacifist and foe of Nazism, who won the prize in 1935.
“He died under guard in 1938 after years of maltreatment.”
As for Mr. Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, the reports say she is being kept under house arrest and smothering surveillance, preventing her from speaking out about Mr. Liu’s belated treatment for cancer.
In a brief video message, Ms. Liu is reported to have said in a message to a friend when her husband’s fatal condition was announced: “Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy.”
Mr. Liu’s illness elicited a deluge of sympathy from officials, friends, Chinese rights activists and international groups, who saw him as a fearless advocate of peaceful, democratic change.
“The reaction to his illness shows how much he was respected,” said Cui Weiping, a former professor of literature in Beijing who knew Mr. Liu and now lives in Los Angeles.
People from all walks of life — friends, strangers, young people — have been outraged to hear that someone with terminal cancer was kept locked up till he died.”
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday: “The human rights movement in China and across the world has lost a principled champion who devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs.”
Terry E. Branstad, the United States ambassador to China, said in an emailed statement, “China has lost a deeply principled role model who deserved our respect and adulation, not the prison sentences to which he was subjected.”
He added, “We call on China to release all prisoners of conscience and to respect the fundamental freedoms of all.”
It appears that Mr. Liu was arrested most recently in 2008, after he helped initiate Charter 08, a bold petition calling for democracy, the rule of law and an end to censorship.
A year later, a court in Beijing tried and convicted Mr. Liu on a charge of inciting subversion. The petition and essays he wrote in which he upbraided and mocked the Chinese government were cited in the verdict. Mr. Liu responded to his trial with a warning about China’s future.
“Hatred can rot a person’s wisdom and conscience,” he said in a statement he prepared for the trial. “An enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation and inflame brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a country’s advance toward freedom and democracy.
After his death was announced, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the Chinese government “bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.”
She said: “Liu Xiaobo will remain a powerful symbol for all who fight for freedom, democracy and a better world.”
“He was truly a prisoner of conscience, and he paid the highest possible price for his relentless struggle.”
Geremie R. Barmé, the Australian Sinologist who is a close friend of Mr. Liu’s, wrote in a tribute before Mr. Liu’s death: “Xiaobo was wedded both psychically and physically to China and its fate.”
“In the end, his words and deeds may have garnered him a Nobel Prize, yet in an authoritarian system, one that since 1989 has oscillated merely between the poles of the cruel and the pitiless, they sealed his fate.”
Because Mr. Liu remained in prison after he was selected for the Nobel Prize in 2010, he was represented at the award ceremony, by an empty chair.
His lecture - No Enemies, No Hatred” - translated by Stacy Mosher, and read by the Norwegian actress-director, Liv Ullmann, was prepared especially for his 2009 trial.
It says: “I have no enemies. I have no hatred. This is my final statement.”
“I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well.
Where different values, ideas, beliefs and political views, can both compete with each other, and peacefully co-exist.
Where both majority and minority views will be equally guaranteed, and where the political views that differ from those currently in power, in particular, will be fully respected and protected.”
Where all political views will spread out under the sun for people to choose from, where every citizen can state political views without fear, and where no one can under any circumstances, suffer political persecution for voicing divergent political views.
I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on, no one will be incriminated because of speech.”
“Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.
To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.
In order to exercise the right to freedom of speech conferred by the Constitution, one should fulfill the social responsibility of a Chinese citizen.
There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.”
And as he was lying there dying under police guard, he was struggled to finish what was most probably his last written work.
It was not a political statement, but a sometimes playful, sometimes darkly cryptic tribute to his wife, Liu Xia, an artist and poet, who endured house arrest herself, as he is now lying is hospital, dying.
It says: “Love is as intense as ice, love is as remote as blackness, and my praise is perhaps an unforgivable poison, which is how intense and remote my love is for you.”
It was his brief and fragmentary tribute of love to his wife for the very last time.
What about you?
Do you think the late Liu Xiaobo is right that “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth?
Please, tell the rest what you think.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!