Exiled Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu has defended his decision to release emotional recordings of phone calls with the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo despite intense pressure from Western diplomats not to go public with the conversations.
Liao prompted controversy in May when he released a recording of phone calls in which Liu Xia – the late laureate’s wife – spoke of her despair.
The release raised international awareness of her plight but also prompted concerns that the tactic would undermine efforts to negotiate her release with the authorities.
“There was a lot of pressure from US, French and German [diplomats],” Liao said, adding that he was asked to take “full responsibility” for what might happen after the release of the audio clip.
A long-time friend of Liu Xia, Liao said behind-the-scenes diplomacy was unlikely to sway Beijing on human rights issues.
He lambasted Western countries for their low-profile approach toward human rights violations in China, saying: “Can you keep a low profile dealing with a tyranny? Westerners do not understand that, but I do, because I came from that place.”
Liao, apparently tired but energised, was discussing this week’s dramatic events, which saw Liu arrive in the German capital after spending years under virtual house arrest.
Liao, a dissident writer and poet who turns 60 next month, went to jail for producing “anti-government” videos about the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. He moved to Germany after his release.
Liao took a leading role in lobbying for Liu to be released and campaigned in vain for her late husband to be freed from prison.
Liu Xiaobo died last year from cancer while serving an 11-year jail sentence – the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die behind bars in decades.
But over the past two days, the Berlin-based Liao has been virtually incommunicado after he appeared at the airport to watch Liu arrive.
He had spent much of the time with Liu, who is being treated for serious mental health problems.
In the recording released in May she threatened to take her own life after a German-Chinese deal to send her abroad fell apart.
“You can record this now: I’m so angry that I’m ready to die here … If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with,” she said.
The German interior ministry has confirmed that Liu has been granted long-term residency, which includes the right to work.
Liao said she might exhibit some of the photographs she took in China, both before and during her eight years under house arrest.
“What I remember most vividly about Liu Xiaobo, is what … he told Liu Xia: ‘You must go to the free world. You have to go to Germany,’” Liao said.
But for now, his main task is to help Liu recover.
Liao also suggested that he felt an obligation to try to help her in her new life because of her late husband’s work as an activist, saying: “We owe Liu Xiaobo a great deal.”