UPDATED at 5:40 P.M. on 2017-07-13
Rights activists around the world mourned the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo on Thursday, following an official announcement that he had died from multiple organ failure while being treated for terminal liver cancer.
Liu's death at 61 came amid mounting anger at the ruling Chinese Communist Party over its refusal to allow him to seek treatment overseas and his late diagnosis in May by prison doctors, which many have said is suspicious.
"Liu Xiaobo has died. His love, courage and strength will never die," U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said via Twitter, while other activists called on Beijing to free his wife Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since his Nobel peace award was announced in October 2010.
Former top Communist Party official Bao Tong said the government had it within its power to treat Liu Xiaobo sooner, and to allow him to seek medical treatment overseas, but didn't.
"They govern a huge country; how hard could it be for them to decide to act to save a single life?" a clearly upset Bao told RFA shortly after Liu's death was announced. "Nobody was asking them to pick up Mount Tai and jump over the East Sea with it."
"They were just asking for them to show a little compassion, a little humanity," he said. "They weren't even asking for justice, just some morality and compassion."
London-based rights group Amnesty International launched a petition on Thursday calling for an end to Liu Xia's illegal house arrest, heavy surveillance and harassment by the authorities.
"Liu Xia has been kept in isolation since October 2010, and she has suffered from psychological stress, anxiety and depression as a result," the group said on its petition page.
"It’s time the Chinese authorities stop cruelly punishing Liu Xia," the group said. "Our greatest tribute to [Liu Xiaobo] will be to ensure that Liu Xia is free [to travel wherever she wishes]."
Veteran U.S.-based dissident Yang Jianli said that while many were expecting the news at any time in China's overseas dissident community, that hadn't lessened their grief.
"We were in extreme pain and grief when the news came out, even though we knew Liu Xiaobo didn't have long," Yang told RFA. "We had continued to press for him to be allowed to die in freedom in spite of this, but we didn't succeed, and we are full of regret over that."
"The regime couldn't even honor the wishes of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia in allowing them the freedom to be alone together," he said.
Mourning in China will be difficult
Liu's supporters in China said they will likely be unable to carry out any kind of memorial activities for Liu.
"I have wanted all along for the Chinese Communist Party to allow Liu Xiaobo overseas to receive medical treatment, for the last few weeks of his life," Harbin resident Chi Jinchun told RFA.
"But people [like us] will only be able to show any mourning for Liu Xiaobo online," Chi said. "I think any other, more concrete, actions will just be too difficult."
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who was a close friend of Liu's, said security has already been tightened around the No. 1 Medical University Hospital in Shenyang, where Liu was being treated.
"There was a hearse that arrived, which was very unusual," Hu said. "There were a large number of police around, and they had implemented traffic controls, and it drove away with a police escort, which was pretty unusual."
"I think this likely had something to do with Liu Xiaobo," he said.
He said activists around China are now expecting a clampdown on their activities.
"We're not ruling out a stability maintenance operation," Hu said. "It looks likely."
In Hong Kong, rights activists met in a public vigil to mark Liu's passing, hitting out at his treatment at the hands of the authorities.
"Liu Xiaobo may have died of cancer, but the Chinese Communist Party bears a huge amount of the responsibility," Albert Ho, who heads the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, told journalists on Thursday.
"They can be accused of treating human life with contempt, by not acting to carry out proper medical checks on someone who had been in an unhealthy prison environment for a long time," Ho said.
"Somebody wanted him gone, and while they may not have murdered him directly, they definitely made sure he died," he said.
Widow, lawyers incommunicado
Meanwhile questions began to emerge early on Friday over Liu's death, which sparked a massive security operation in Shenyang, with police
driving away and detaining bystanders and possible supporters who gathered outside the hospital where he died.
Liu Xia, her brother Liu Hui and other relatives were incommunicado, along with Liu's former defense attorneys.
Liu Xia is being prevented from contacting other relatives, due to fears she might overturn the official narrative that she and other family members had agreed to Liu being treated in China, rather than overseas, sources said.
Repeated calls to Liu's former lawyers Mo Shaoping and Shang Baojun resulted in a "switched off" message late on Thursday and into the early hours of Friday.
And calls to Bao Tong failed to connect after Bao penned an essay on Liu's political thought to mark his passing.
Sources said Liu Xia, Liu Hui and other family members were being housed in a holiday villa after their arrival in Shenyang, with a police guard on the door.
Any shopping trips or visits to the hospital were made under police escort, they said.
And now that Liu Xiaobo has died, Liu Xia's friends are beginning to worry about her personal safety.
"She has very serious sleep deprivation and suffers from extreme fluctuations in her mood," Hao Jian, a Beijing-based film professor and friend of the Lius told RFA. "I have spoken to her by phone a number of times in May and June, but I haven't met her in person."
"Sometimes she called me when her mood was very low, and would talk to me about literature, or read me a poem, and I knew that her psychological state was very poor," he said. "Both Liu Xia and Liu Hui have been under huge physical and psychological pressure, and Liu Xia herself very much wants to go overseas to seek medical treatment."
An academic following the family's plight said their treatment at the hands of the government was "unacceptable."
"The Chinese government has behaved in a cruel and unacceptable manner, and will be condemned internationally for it," the academic said. "I am very angry, too ... and sad at the way the Chinese government has behaved, which will go down in history and be condemned by public opinion."
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.