July 20, 2017
For years, the fiery band of activists pushing for democracy in China looked to Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel Peace laureate, as a source of inspiration. They created social media groups devoted to his iconoclastic poetry. They held up his photos at rallies, demanding justice and transparency.
But Mr. Liu’s death last week of liver cancer, after a final, futile attempt by friends to bring about his release, has dealt a withering blow to the pro-democracy movement. Some say it is now at its weakest point since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
“It’s a turning point,” said Yan Wenxin, a human rights lawyer in Beijing. “The feeling of powerlessness among activists has peaked.”
Under President Xi Jinping, the government has imprisoned dozens of lawyers, journalists and advocates and tightened controls over the internet. Now, the ruling Communist Party’s feverish attempts to erase Mr. Liu’s legacy have raised fears that Mr. Xi will intensify his campaign against activists pushing for ideas like freedom of speech and religion.