Liu Xia, the widow of late Chinese political dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has left Beijing on a flight to Berlin, according to news reports.
The South China Morning Post reported that Liu Xia left for Germany through Finland on Tuesday morning.
A Reuters news report quoting the BBC said that Liu Xia took a Finnair flight that departed from Beijing at around 03:00 GMT. It gave no further details of her travel plans.
According to the Flightview, a flight tracking website, Finnair flight AY86 took off from Beijing just past 03:00 GMT, and is expected to land in Helsinki at around 1:40pm (10:40 GMT). From Helsinki, she is expected to take a connecting flight to Germany.
Merkel had also visited Beijing in May, and during that visit she pressed for Liu Xia’s release.
Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said that Liu Xia left “by her own will” to Germany to receive medical treatment, and had nothing to do with the premier’s trip.
Liu Xiaobo, China’s most famous dissident, died of liver cancer in July 2017 in Chinese custody, having been jailed in 2009 for inciting subversion.
Liu Xia, a poet who stayed out of politics, had been under house arrest since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, and Beijing has been under pressure to allow her to leave China.
She was never charged with an offence, but was kept guarded and largely isolated for more than seven years in the apartment she had shared with her husband.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said that international pressure played some part in Liu Xia’s release.
“It’s been an ordeal for her. She has been suffering from acute depression and hearth problems,” he said. “In many ways she’s experiencing her first taste of freedom.”
Liu Xia was last seen in an official photo taken on July 2017, in which she and a few relatives lowered an urn containing Liu Xiaobo’s ashes into the Pacific Ocean near Dalian, a city in northeast China.
‘Detention has come to an end’
The United Nations, United States, European Union and other foreign governments and groups have urged China to lift restrictions on Liu Xia’s movements.
But China has lambasted calls for her release, saying it was an internal matter.
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International welcomed the report, even as it called on the Chinese government to stop harassing members of Liu Xia’s family who remain in China.
“It is wonderful news that Liu Xia is finally free and that her persecution and illegal detention at the hands of the Chinese authorities has come to an end, nearly one year since Liu Xiaobo’s untimely and undignified death,” Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty said in a statement he sent to Al Jazeera.
“Now, the harassment of Liu Xia’s family who remain in China must end too. It would be most callous of the Chinese authorities to use Liu Xia’s relatives to put pressure on Liu Xia to prevent her from speaking out in the future,” Poon said.
Poon also expressed concern over Liu Xia’s health.
During a telephone conversation with a friend in April, Liu Xia said she was “prepared to die” under house arrest, according to a recording of her phone call.
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director, said she hopes Liu Xia “is en route to freedom and hopefully a more peaceful life”.
“President Xi Jinping should be held responsible for the extraordinary cruelty inflicted upon Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo, and should refrain from harassing other family members,” she said in a statement.
Hundreds of activists, journalists and opposition figures continue to languish in jails, as part of President Xi Jinping’s campaign against dissent.