Political prisoner and Nobel laureate

Born: December 28, 1955;

Died: July 13, 2017

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LIU Xiaobo, who has died aged 61, was China's most prominent political prisoner, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a symbol of the fight for democracy around the world.

He was imprisoned for the first time in connection with the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while serving his fourth and final prison sentence, for inciting subversion by advocating sweeping political reforms and greater human rights in China.

"What I demanded of myself was this: whether as a person or as a writer, I would lead a life of honesty, responsibility, and dignity," Mr Liu wrote in I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement, which he had hoped to read out in court when being sentenced in 2009. He was not permitted to do so and received an 11-year prison sentence.

Mr Liu called the Tiananmen Square protests the major turning point in his life. At the time, he had been a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York but returned early to China in May 1989 to join the movement that was sweeping the country and which the Communist Party regarded as a grave challenge to its authority.

When the Chinese government sent troops and tanks into Beijing to quash the protests on the night of June 3-4, Mr Liu persuaded some students to leave the square rather than face down the army. The military crackdown killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people and heralded a more repressive era.

Mr Liu became one of hundreds of Chinese people imprisoned for crimes linked to the demonstrations.

It was only the first of four stays in prisons owing to his ideology.

His final prison sentence was for co-authoring Charter 08, a document circulated in 2008 that called for more freedom of expression, human rights and an independent judiciary in China. Although Mr Liu was not the initiator, he was a prominent force behind it and already well known to the authorities.

However, the sentence only increased Mr Liu's prominence outside his country.

In 2010, while he was serving his sentence in a prison in a small city in China's north-east, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with the Norwegian-based committee citing his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The award enraged China's government, which condemned it as a political farce.

Within days, Mr Liu's wife, artist and poet Liu Xia, was put under house arrest, despite not being convicted of any crime.

China also punished Norway, even though its government has no say over the independent Nobel panel's decisions. China suspended a bilateral trade deal and restricted imports of Norwegian salmon, and relations only resumed in 2017.

Dozens of Mr Liu's supporters were prevented from leaving the country to accept the award on his behalf. Instead, Mr Liu's absence at the prize-giving ceremony in Oslo was marked by an empty chair. Another empty chair was for Liu Xia.

Mr Liu was born on December 28 1955, in the north-eastern city of Changchun, the son of a language and literature professor who was a committed party member.

The middle child in a family of five boys, he was among the first students to attend Jilin University when college entrance examinations resumed following the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

He studied Chinese literature there and later moved to the capital, first as a graduate student then as a lecturer at Beijing Normal University.

After spending nearly two years in detention following the Tiananmen crackdown, Mr Liu was detained for the second time in 1995 after drafting a plea for political reform.

Later that year, he was detained a third time after co-drafting Opinion On Some Major Issues Concerning Our Country Today. That resulted in a three-year sentence to a labour camp, during which time he married Liu Xia.

Released in 1999, he joined the international literary and human rights organisation PEN and continued advocating for human rights and democracy.

Liu Xia's brother was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment over a real estate dispute which supporters said was designed to further persecute Mr Liu's family over his actions.

In 2012, an appeal by 134 Nobel laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called the detentions of both Lius a violation of international law and urged their immediate release.

Fellow PEN members such as Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie appealed for his release in a letter on June 29, after he was transferred from prison to the hospital.

Their appeal fell on deaf ears

He had been treated in hospital for advanced liver cancer diagnosed in May.

The judicial bureau in the north-eastern city of Shenyang said he died of multiple organ failure.

Mr Liu is survived by his wife and by his son from his first marriage.