Chinese lawyers have joined intellectuals in paying tribute to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died of cancer at the age of 61 on Thursday afternoon while in custody.
As information related to dissidents like Liu is still largely censored on Chinese media, much of the mourning was done privately and through social media. Lawyers, writers, professors, artists and journalists took to social media outlets such as Twitter, WeChat and Weibo to share Liu’s work—especially his final statement before going to prison in 2009: He famously said then that he had “no enemies and no hatred.”
People also posted images featuring an empty chair, a symbol commemorating his vacant seat in the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Because Liu could not collect the Nobel Prize himself, he was represented at the ceremony by an empty chair and his famous statement, which he was not permitted to read at his trial, served in his absence as his Nobel lecture.
“It is a disgrace to the civilized 21st century,” wrote a lawyer named Liu Hui on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service.
Liu Xiaobo had fallen sick in prison and was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May of this year. He was eventually transferred from prison to a local hospital in Shenyang, but his family’s pleas for him to be released to seek treatment overseas were denied.
“Those who carry firewood for the people, we cannot let him freeze in the snow; those who blaze a trail for the people, we cannot let him be trapped in thorns,” the lawyer Liu wrote in a post.
Liu Xiaobo was a literature professor and pro-democratic activist. In 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” after he co-authored Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform and Constitutional rule in China.
In advocating the rule of law and upholding the Constitution, Liu Xiaobo’s cause was shared by many of the country’s human rights lawyers. Well-known rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is among those who signed Charter 08.
On July 9, a few days prior to Liu’s death, lawyers in China, Hong Kong and overseas gathered for the two-year anniversary of the crackdown on Beijing-based Fengrui Law Firm. On July 9, 2015, more than 200 lawyers and associated staffers were arrested. So far, several lawyers are still being detained without having been charged and with no access to communication with anyone outside prison; others are serving prison sentences, are on parole, or are under house arrest.
“The working environment for rights lawyers remains hostile in China,” Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawyer and chair of the nonprofit China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said at the July 9 gathering before the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.