Activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan marked one year since the death in custody of Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo on Friday, in stark contrast to an enforced silence in mainland China.
A vigil was held in Hong Kong near the city government’s offices, while the anniversary was marked with sculptures, statements and performance art elsewhere in Asia and Europe.
A veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, democracy activist Liu died from liver cancer while serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion” on the Chinese mainland.
The commemorations come three days after Liu’s widow, Liu Xia, arrived in Germany following eight years of de facto house arrest in Beijing.
The hundreds of mourners that gathered in Hong Kong Friday night carried candles in tribute to Liu Xiaobo, as a minute’s silence was held.
Barrister Wilson Leung, 35, said he admired Liu’s ability to avoid being bitter.
“He said he had no enemies. He is an amazing and admirable spirit,” Leung said.
Activists led by exiled Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi also unveiled a three-part sculpture in a Taipei park on Friday night, which included an etched bronze image of Liu Xiaobo and an empty chair.
The empty chair became a symbol for Liu after his imprisonment, reflecting his absence from the Nobel Prize ceremony to accept his award in 2010 due to being behind bars.
Wu’er, who was a student leader at Tiananmen, said Liu had been a key adviser to him during the pro-democracy rallies which ultimately ended in bloodshed when Chinese authorities sent in tanks to crush the peaceful protests.
“Liu Xiaobo does not only stand for what he advocated when he was alive. He represented an endeavor that generations of Chinese fought for,” Wu’er told AFP.
In mainland China, authorities moved to quash any public commemoration of Liu’s death, muzzling his friends and family with warnings, enforced travel orders and surveillance.
Liu’s ashes were scattered at sea — a decision supporters said at the time had been forced upon his family as a way to avoid creating a pilgrimage site where he could be remembered.
Yet even if there had been a tomb to visit, his family would not have been able to go, according to Lu Siqing, who runs the Hong Kong-based website Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
On Friday morning, “public security warned [Liu’s] family members not to go to public places to pay their respects,” he wrote in a statement sent to AFP, citing a conversation with Liu’s sister-in-law Lin Wei.
In Hong Kong dozens of pro-democracy campaigners had earlier gathered outside China’s liaison office.
Many in semi-autonomous Hong Kong fear freedoms in the city are being eroded by Beijing.
Campaigners also called for the release of prominent Chinese democracy activist Qin Yongmin, who was jailed for 13 years on the mainland Wednesday for “subversion of state power”.
At the Louvre Museum in Paris, Chinese cartoonist Badiucao organized a performance in which volunteers held up large cloth prints of the Mona Lisa sporting Liu Xia’s glasses and shaved haircut in front of the original painting itself.
In Berlin, literary notables including Nobel laureate Herta Mueller and Liu Xia’s close friend Liao Yiwu led a memorial for Liu Xiaobo, with around 250 people in attendance, including Germany’s former president Joachim Gauck.
Former east German dissident and musician Wolf Biermann, who Liao revealed was the messenger linking him with Chancellor Angela Merkel in their bid to free Liu Xia, played the guitar, while Mueller read out Liu Xia’s poetry.
Liao had earlier posted photos of the newly liberated poet grinning incandescently in a backyard garden.
But she was absent from the memorial at the Gethsemane church — a key meeting point for democracy demonstrators before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Besides her weak physical condition, her brother remains in China.
She is free in Germany, “but she still can’t enjoy her freedom,” said Tienchi Martin-Liao, who chairs the writers association Independent Chinese PEN Center.
Liu Xiaobo was arrested in late 2008 after co-authoring Charter 08, a widely circulated online petition that called for political reform in the Communist-ruled nation.
The bold manifesto, which was signed by more than 10,000 people after it went online, called for the protection of basic human rights and the reform of China’s one-party system.
Liu Xia had faced no charges but endured heavy restrictions on her movements and was kept under constant surveillance since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize, infuriating Chinese authorities.