The ailing widow of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died of cancer last year under police guard, left China for Europe on Tuesday after a high-level diplomatic campaign by the German government.
Diplomats said Liu Xia, Mr. Liu’s widow, flew to Helsinki, Finland, on Finnair. Her final destination is expected to be Germany.
Ms. Liu’s brother, Liu Hui, posted a message soon after the flight took off saying she had left for Europe “to start her new life.” He thanked all the supporters who had helped win her release from years of house arrest and strict police supervision.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany raised Ms. Liu’s case directly with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, during a visit to Beijing earlier this year, a gesture that underscored her opposition to China’s treatment of Ms. Liu and her husband, European diplomats said.
Ms. Liu, 57, had consistently asked to leave China since the death of her husband last July, and had pleaded to be freed from detention.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry told reporters at a regular news briefing on Tuesday that Ms. Liu had been granted permission to leave for Germany for medical reasons.
Her release by the Chinese government came one day after a human rights dialogue between European Union and Chinese officials in Beijing ended Monday. An annual summit meeting between China and the European Union is scheduled for next week in Beijing.
Ms. Liu was placed under police surveillance in 2010, the same year her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what the committee called “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental rights in China.” He was not allowed to go to Oslo to receive the prize; Ms. Liu was also barred from attending the ceremony.
Mr. Liu, who was detained in 2008 after promoting a pro-democracy charter, died of liver cancer at age 61 while serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.”
Though he was being treated at a Chinese hospital, the government did not reveal his illness until it was in its late stages, and it would not allow Mr. Liu to travel abroad for medical care.
Ms. Liu has friends in Germany, and had asked the Chinese authorities to let her go there so she could receive treatment for depression.
In a recorded telephone call released in May by the Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu, who lives in exile in Germany, Ms. Liu said: “It would be easier to die than to live. Nothing would be simpler for me than dying in defiance.”
European diplomats had said over the last several months that China had left Ms. Liu in limbo as a show of resolve against Chinese human rights dissidents, despite aggressive efforts by Germany to press for her release.
After Ms. Merkel’s visit to Beijing in the spring, the Chinese authorities let the Europeans know that if Ms. Liu’s case was not publicized, her release would be possible, a European diplomat with knowledge of the case said.
In Hong Kong, at a makeshift statue of Mr. Liu that has become a fixture near the city’s Victoria Park, supporters of the couple expressed relief at Ms. Liu’s departure from China.
“What happened was tragic,” one passer-by, Katie Wong, said of the couple and their ordeal. “The both of them have helped China so much, I now wish for her to have a good, relaxing life with her newfound freedom.”