Liu Xia, the widow of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, spent her first night of freedom in almost a decade with close friends in Berlin.
Liu, who had spent years under de facto house arrest in China, arrived in Berlin’s Tegel airport on Tuesday afternoon, and soon afterward was driven away by a car parked on the runway, arranged by the German government.
Although the exact itinerary of her first night in Berlin as well as her precise whereabouts were unclear, she is known to have met with her long-time friend, the dissident poet Liao Yiwu.
In a tweet, Liao said Liu was physically weak but in good spirits.
“It’s been so many years, and it feels like she has been cut off from outside world for ages,” Liao said.
Liao helped bring her plight to the world’s attention by releasing voice recordings she made discussing the toll her ordeal had taken on her mental health.
A source said it was unlikely that Liu would meet the press, but on Friday a memorial event for Liu Xiaobo will be held in the German capital.
The event, which marks the first anniversary of his death from liver cancer in the city of Shenyang, will be held in a church and attended by Nobel literature laureate Herta Müller and the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, a former East German dissident.
Müller and Biermann were among a group of German-based writers and cultural figures who had lobbied Angela Merkel’s government to keep up the pressure for Liu’s release.
A source close to Liu Xia and her family said she had known about China’s plans to release her a week ago.
“I talked to her three days ago and she was in an unusually good mood. She could not tell me what was going on,” said Tienchi Martin-Liao, the Cologne-based president of the Independent Chinese PEN centre, a position that was once held by Liu Xiaobo.
Martin-Liao also told Die Zeit newspaper that the Chinese government had treated Liu Xia “as a gift to the German government, so that the relationship between the two countries could be intensified”.
The news of Liu’s release, which will allow her to receive medical treatment, was a surprise to many, including the human rights activists who prepared placards to welcome her at Tegel airport.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Liu’s arrival in Germany on Twitter, praising the “good news that Liu Xia has arrived in Germany” welcoming the news that a “humane solution could be found”.
Maas added: “Liu Xia can now receive medical treatment in Germany. We hope for a speedy recovery.”
Liu’s release – which coincided with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Germany – is seen as a diplomatic success for Germany.
Samantha Power, who served as the US ambassador to the United Nations under Barack Obama praised Merkel’s efforts in securing the release of Liu, tweeting: “Finally. Thanks to Angela Merkel & the EU for pushing for her release.”
Stuart Lau is reporting from Berlin