Accessibility links

Jailed Chinese Dissident Wins Nobel Peace Prize

  • RFE/RL

Liu Xiaobo in an undated photograph released by his family

Liu Xiaobo in an undated photograph released by his family

World leaders and NGOs have praised the Nobel Committee's awarding of the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government, meanwhile, cracked down on celebrations and censored news of the prize.

Praise for imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize win has poured in from world leaders and human rights organizations, with many calling for his release and imploring China, which has denounced the decision, to improve its record on human rights.

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland made the announcement today in Oslo, saying the committee had decided to award Liu for his "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

Liu, a 54-year-old writer and university professor, has spent his career calling for broad political reform in China, including granting citizens the right to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who was awarded the Peace Prize in 2009, issued a statement welcoming the Nobel Committee’s decision to give Liu this year's prize.

"By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and nonviolent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law," he said.

Obama also praised China for making "dramatic progress in economic reform and...lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty" over the last 30 years. But he gently chided Beijing for not enacting political reform as quickly as economic reforms, and for failing to respect basic human rights. He called on the Chinese government to release Liu "as soon as possible."

Lech Walesa, former Polish democracy activist and president, and winner of the 1983 Peace Prize, said: "I am happy that finally the world will have to decide whether it stands behind Western-style values or allows violation of human rights."

"If we are seriously thinking about globalization -- and globalization without China is impossible -- we have to help China join the common path of values. With the Nobel Prize, we're starting a march in this direction."

Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, praised Liu together with less prominent activists who are also working to improve their societies.

France, Germany, and the main opposition political group in Taiwan have urged Chinese officials to free Liu so that he can receive his award in person. The prime minister of Japan, a country that has recently locked horns with China, said the Nobel Committee's decision sent a message to China over its handling of human rights.

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, released a statement through the human rights group Freedom Now, saying, "I hope that the international community will take this opportunity to call on the Chinese government to press for my husband's release."

The rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders asked Obama to urge Chinese President Hu Jintao to free Liu during the G20 summit in South Korea next month, while Amnesty International implored China to release all prisoners of conscience. Reporters Without Borders also hailed the committee's decision.

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel also lauded the committee for its courage. "It did not give in to Chinese warnings and did not put economic interest above human rights," he said.

'Blasphemy' To The Prize

At least 20 human rights activists in Beijing were detained for celebrating Liu's win. A group of up to 100 supporters also gathered outside Liu's Beijing compound, from which his wife was prevented from leaving.

In the Chinese administrative region of Hong Kong -- the only location on Chinese soil where anti-China demonstrations can take place -- about 20 members of the pro-democracy Civic Party marched to Beijing's de facto embassy, calling for Liu's release.

China has denounced the decision, with a Foreign Ministry statement calling Liu a "criminal" and saying his selection is a "blasphemy" to the principle of the peace prize." China had earlier explicitly warned Nobel officials that handing the prize to Liu could harm relations between Beijing and Oslo.

China and Norway are currently in negotiations over a bilateral trade agreement. Despite the warning, Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg congratulated Liu on the award in a statement.

China's government censors blocked the announcement of the award on CNN, and Internet searches on "Liu" or the "Nobel Peace Prize" in China drew a blank. The country's official new agency carried news of the award only by headlining the government's angry reaction to it.

Liu was a leading author of Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto demanding sweeping political reform in communist-led China. The document, which was signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics, and writers, was published in December 2008.

He was arrested just before its release and is currently serving an 11-year sentence on charges of inciting subversion of state power. It is unclear whether Liu, who is being held in a prison in his home province of Jinzhou, has been informed of his award.

'Deeply Concerned'

In his statement in Oslo, Nobel Committee Chairman Jagland said Liu has argued his sentence violates China's constitution and fundamental human rights.

The verdict, handed down in December 2009, received international condemnation.

Gregory May, an official with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, criticized the sentence in a statement to journalists just after the verdict.

"The United States government is deeply concerned by the sentence of 11 years in prison announced today in the case of prominent Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, under the charge of inciting subversion of state power," May said. "Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights. Mr. Liu has peacefully worked for establishment of democratic processes in China."

Liu's wife told Reuters just ahead of the verdict that any ordeal he might endure was "worth it," and that it was "the price you must pay if you want to fight for your dignity, if you want to be a person with dignity, to be a conscientious intellectual in China."

Jagland today said that Liu's sentence had only strengthened his message calling for sweeping human rights, judicial, and political reforms in economically ascendant China. "Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wider-ranging struggle for human rights in China," he said.

The French news agency AFP reported that police had physically prevented Liu's wife from granting interviews today. But the agency later quoted Liu Xia as saying she was "so excited" by the award and demanding her husband's release.

'Worthy Winner'

Amnesty International called Liu a "worthy winner" and urged China to release all prisoners of conscience.

China's phenomenal progress over the past decades has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Its economy is now the second-largest in the world. Jagland said that China's human rights violations, however, contradict its constitution.

"Article 35 of China's Constitution lays down that, and I quote, 'Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration,' end quote," Jagland said. "In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens."

Liu has been a strong spokesman for human rights in China for more than two decades. He was previously jailed for being a key figure in the pro-democracy student protest in 1989, which culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Roundly Endorsed

His nomination was endorsed by, among others, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu, South Africa's former Anglican archbishop, and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1989, China was incensed that the Nobel Committee chose the Dalai Lama for the prize.

Other nominees for this year's Peace Prize included Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and the Internet.

The Nobel Committee considered a record 237 individuals and organizations for the Peace Prize, the most closely watched of the Nobel prizes. The recipient also receives an award of 10 million Swedish kroner ($1.49 million).

Last year, U.S. President Obama was a controversial and surprising selection, winning the Peace Prize for "extraordinary efforts" in strengthening international diplomacy after only nine months in office and while waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The awards for medicine, chemistry, physics, and literature were announced this week, and the final prize for economics will be announced on October 11. The Peace Prize award will be presented in Oslo on December 10; the remaining awards will be presented the same day in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

written by Courtney Rose Brooks, with agency reports