Family members of Liu Xiaobo scattered the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s ashes into the sea on Saturday in funeral proceedings closely orchestrated by the Chinese government following his death from cancer while in custody, the AP reports. Liu’s supporters say the move was intended by the authoritarian government to permanently erase any traces of China’s best-known political prisoner, who died Thursday at age 61. The sea burial took place Saturday at noon, just hours after his cremation. At one of two briefings held by the government, Liu’s elder brother, who friends say was not supportive of Liu’s political advocacy, thanked the ruling Communist Party and the government for its handling of the funeral.
Friends disputed the government’s line that Liu’s friends attended the ceremony. “Not a single one of his real friends were there,” one friend tells the AP. “This is just a big performance.” Before Liu’s death from multiple organ failure, Beijing faced international criticism for not releasing Liu and his wife, who is under house arrest, to travel abroad for treatment. Activists and friends of the family say the sea burial appeared to be Beijing’s way of erasing Liu’s memory. “The government’s thinking is that in this way, they can destroy the body and remove all traces of him,” says dissident and family friend Hu Jia. “The authorities are very worried a grave would be the focal point of the public’s actions to memorialize him, which could easily turn into protests.”