US congressional Democrats and Republicans condemned Beijing on Friday over the recent death of Liu Xiaobo, saying the demise of the imprisoned Nobel laureate highlighted the Chinese government's disregard for human rights.
"Liu Xiaobo's death is a tragedy and a deep affront to the basic notions of justice and human decency," said top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi during an appearance at a special hearing on the late democracy activist.
The former House speaker said the Chinese government, through its arrest and nine-year imprisonment of Liu, had shown a "shameful disregard for basic freedoms," and that the United States must speak out for human rights in the Asian giant.
Liu, a writer who had become a living symbol of the Communist government's intolerance for dissent, died Thursday in custody at a Chinese hospital at age 61.
A White House statement issued shortly after Liu's death described him as a "Chinese political prisoner" but made no direct mention of the Chinese government.
And President Donald Trump, on a trip to Paris, avoided criticism of Beijing over Liu's death.
But Republican Chris Smith, chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on global human rights, which hosted the hearing, offered a fiery denunciation, blasting the communist government for its "extraordinary assault" on the rule of law and human rights.
"This crime -- the death and silencing of Liu Xiaobo -- should follow the Chinese Communist Party like an unwashable permanent stain," Smith told the hearing, adding that governments and rights groups should work to preserve Liu's legacy.
"The US cannot be morally neutral or silent in the face of the Chinese government's repression of fundamental freedoms. Human rights is not a secondary interest."
The hearing featured three witnesses who had worked with or backed Liu in various capacities, including US-based Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, who once represented the family.
Yang denounced the way Liu was "slowly murdered by the regime in front of the world," and said the international community must hold Beijing accountable.
Lawmakers and witnesses said the focus should also turn to the activist's widow Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010 and is said to suffer from depression.
Perry Link, who once served as Liu's translator, said the activist knew his death was imminent and wanted to "spend the last of his energies to help his beloved and long-suffering wife... to get out of China."