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Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo Dies at Age 61

The human rights activist spent his final years in Chinese custody

Norwegian actress and director Liv Ullmann reads from the words of Liu Xiaobo when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Xiaobo was imprisoned and unable to accept the award. (Marta B. Haga/MFA, Oslo)
smithsonian.com

Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer and activist who spent nearly the last decade of his life imprisoned by the Chinese government, has died at age 61, reports Chris Buckley for the New York Times.

Government officials announced late last month that Liu​ had been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, Buckley writes.

Liu​ first came to prominence in 1989 as a leader in the Tiananmen Square protests that rocked Beijing. Then a university lecturer, Liu​ gained the trust of the student protesters through a 72-hour hunger strike. As Chinese troops violently cracked down on the movement, he helped persuade students to leave the square and is credited with saving thousands of lives, reports Harrison Smith for the Washington Post.

The Tiananmen Square protests earned Liu​ his first of four jail sentences. He also lost job and had his books of literary criticism banned in China. Nevertheless, Liu​ continued to write, Smith reports, publishing more than 1,000 essays by his own count, calling for political reform in China.

Liu's final arrest came in late 2008 after his heavy involvement in "Charter 08," a manifesto from Chinese intellectuals and activists calling for human rights and democracy in China. Though locked away unable to communicate with the world, Liu soon became a rallying cry worldwide for the human rights movement.

In 2010, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." Because both he and his wife were unable to leave China to accept it, the citation and medal was placed on an empty chair at the Norwegian ceremony.

"The severe punishment imposed on Liu made him more than a central spokesman for human rights," Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said while presenting the award. "Practically overnight, he became the very symbol, both in China and internationally, of the struggle for such rights in China."

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