China's best-known human rights prisoner, Liu Xiaobo, died Thursday at age 61 following a high-profile battle with liver cancer that made his death as controversial as his life. Liu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent his last eight years as a prisoner of conscience, passed away at a hospital in Shenyang, China, where he had been moved from his prison cell in the final stage of his illness. The judicial bureau in Shengyang announced the cause of death as “multiple organ failure.”
The hospital held a press conference late Thursday and said that Liu's wife, Liu Xia, and close family members were with Liu when he died at 5:35 p.m. local time. Liu’s final days were marked by a public dispute over the quality of his care and Beijing's refusal of a family request that he be transferred for treatment to the United States or Germany. He is the first Nobel laureate to die in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, who died of tuberculosis under the watch of Nazi secret police in Berlin, Germany, in 1938.
Tributes to Liu quickly poured in from Chinese intellectuals and human rights advocates, who described the former college lecturer as a moderate liberal who advocated peaceful resistance to Chinese authorities. “He was a man of humanity and an idealist. He’s by no means a politician. Judging from his writings and speech, what he had illustrated is more of a social idealism of humanities,” said Zhang Lifan, a prominent Chinese historian.