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Nobel Peace Prize Awarded To Liu Xiaobo In Absentia

  • RFE/RL

The chairman of the Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, looks down at the vacant chair of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (pictured at left), on which Jagland placed the Nobel Peace Prize diploma and gold medal.

The chairman of the Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, looks down at the vacant chair of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (pictured at left), on which Jagland placed the Nobel Peace Prize diploma and gold medal.

The Nobel Committee has formally awarded jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo its 2010 Peace Prize in absentia.

"Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not done anything wrong. He must be released," Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said in a speech before placing the award, embossed with Liu's initials, on an empty chair on the podium to highlight his absence from the ceremony.

"We regret that the laureate is not present. He is in isolation in a prison in northeast China. Nor can the laureate's wife, Liu Xia, or his closest relatives, be with us," Jagland said. "No medal or diploma will therefore be presented here today. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. We congratulate Liu Xiaobo with this year's peace prize."

Jagland added that Liu –- who first came to prominence as a leading activist during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests –- wanted the prize to be given in honor of those who perished in the crackdown.

"Liu has told his wife that he would like this year's peace prize to be dedicated to the lost souls from the 4th of June [1989], as he put it," Jagland said. "It is, indeed, a pleasure for us to fulfill his wish."

It was only the second time in the Nobel Prize's century-long history that a chair was left symbolically empty because neither the laureate nor a representative was able to accept the award.

The only other occasion was in 1935, when Nazi Germany refused to allow pacifist Carl von Ossietzky attend the ceremony.

Other past peace laureates who were unable to collect their prizes personally are Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, Poland's Lech Walesa, and the Soviet Union's Andrei Sakharov. In their cases, family members accepted the awards on their behalf.

In the absence of Liu or his representative, the Nobel Committee will leave for an unknown future date the presentation of his gold medal and prize of $1.5 million.

The unusual arrangements come as the efforts to honor Liu as a human rights champion continue to infuriate China.

Beijing refused to release Liu -- who is serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges of subversion -- to attend the ceremony and also prevented any members of his family from attending. Beijing also has detained at least 20 other activists to prevent their taking part.

Beijing-Led Boycott

China lobbied hard for other countries to boycott the Oslo award ceremony. Some 20 countries declined invitations, including Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Russia.

Two other countries that previously had said they would boycott the event -- Serbia and Ukraine -- subsequently changed their positions and were expected to send representatives. Both Belgrade and Kyiv had been under intense pressure at home and from abroad for their original decision to boycott.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele told a news conference with visiting Serb Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic in Brussels on December 9 that "as an applicant country for European Union membership, Serbia is expected to embrace European Union values and coordinate with European Union diplomatic missions in third countries."

Oslo Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad said on December 9 that 45 embassies in Oslo had accepted invitations to the event, while 19 declined.

As the ceremony took place, the Chinese government condemned it strongly. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement that "facts fully show that the decision of the Nobel committee cannot represent the overall majority of the people of the world."

The Chinese efforts to boycott the Oslo proceedings and thus discredit Liu as a peace activist drew sharp criticism from many capitals.

Counter Pressure

"We urge China to uphold its international human rights obligations and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington on December 9. "And we continue to call for Mr. Liu's immediate release."

The same day, Mexico's senate unanimously called on Beijing to free Liu and let him travel to Oslo to collect his prize.

But China has refused any such pleas and launched its own counteroffensive accusing the West of trying to force its ideas into China.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on December 9 that Liu's articles were meant to "stir up and overthrow China's political authority and social system."

Liu, a writer and former university professor, came to prominence as a leading activist during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, for which he was jailed for two years.

After his release, he spoke out again in 1996 against China's one-party system and went to prison for three more years.

Then in 2008 he co-authored Charter 08, a manifesto calling for a new constitution, an independent judiciary, and freedom of expression and signed by some 300 academics, artists, and lawyers. He was sent to prison in 2009 for another 11 years.

During the ceremony in Oslo City Hall, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read one of Liu's texts to the audience.

The text, written when he was sentenced last year, asserted that "there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme."

Due to heavy censorship in China, little news of the Oslo events is likely to reach Liu's homeland, where he remains relatively unknown to his countrymen.

written by Charles Recknagel based on agency reports
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