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Jailed Chinese activist gets Nobel Peace Prize

Panel’s decision is rebuked by foreign ministry

Peace prize recipient Liu Xiaobo advocates democracy. Peace prize recipient Liu Xiaobo advocates democracy. (Associated Press/ File 2007)
By Andrew Jacobs and Jonathan Ansfield
New York Times / October 9, 2010

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BEIJING — Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist, and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his writings, was named the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate yesterday in recognition of “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.’’

Liu, 54, perhaps China’s best-known dissident, is serving an 11-year term on subversion charges.

China’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the news, calling it a “blasphemy’’ to the peace prize and saying it would harm Norwegian-Chinese relations. “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,’’ it said in a statement.

Liu is the first Chinese citizen to receive the peace prize and one of three laureates to have received it while in prison.

In awarding the prize to Liu, the Norwegian Nobel committee delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders at a time of growing intolerance for domestic dissent and spreading unease internationally over the muscular diplomacy that has accompanied China’s economic rise.

In a move that in retrospect may have been counterproductive, a senior Chinese official recently warned the Norwegian committee’s chairman that giving the prize to Liu would adversely affect relations between the two countries.

In their statement in Olso announcing the prize, the committee noted that China, now the world’s second-biggest economy, should be commended for lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and for broadening the scope of political participation. But they chastised the government for ignoring freedoms guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution.

“In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens,’’ the statement said, adding, “China’s new status must entail increased responsibility.’’

News of the award was nowhere to be found on the country’s main Internet portals and a CNN broadcast from Oslo was blacked out.

Given that he has no access to a telephone, it was unlikely that Liu would immediately learn of the news, his wife, Liu Xia, said.

Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the five-member Nobel committee, said Liu Xiaobo had become the “foremost symbol’’ for the human rights struggle in China. While he acknowledged that China had sought to dissuade the committee from making the award to Liu, he underscored that the committee acted independently of the Norwegian government and believed that it was right to criticize big powers.

“The Norwegian Nobel committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace,’’ Jagland added.

The prize is an enormous boost for China’s beleaguered reform movement and an affirmation of the two decades Liu has spent advocating peaceful political change in the face of unremitting hostility from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Blacklisted from academia and barred from publishing in China, Liu has been harassed and detained repeatedly since 1989, when he stepped into the drama playing out on Tiananmen Square by staging a hunger strike and then negotiating the peaceful retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of soldiers stood by with rifles at the ready.

“If not for the work of Liu and the others to broker a peaceful withdrawal from the square, Tiananmen Square would have been a field of blood on June 4,’’ said Gao Yu, a veteran journalist who was arrested in the hours before the tanks began moving through the city.

Liu’s most recent arrest in December 2008 came a day before a reformist manifesto he helped craft began circulating on the Internet. The petition, Charter ‘08, demanded that China’s rulers embrace human rights, judicial independence, and the kind of political reform that would ultimately end the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

“For all these years, Liu Xiaobo has persevered in telling the truth about China and because of this, for the fourth time, he has lost his personal freedom,’’ his wife said earlier this week.

Given his detention, it is unclear how Liu would take possession of the prize, which includes a gold medal, a diploma, and the equivalent of $1.46 million.

The Nobel committee keeps its deliberations secret, but speculation that Liu would win was so intense and widespread that one Irish bookmaker refused to take any further bets last week and said it would pay out those who had already wagered on him.

Yesterday, the French government immediately urged China to free Liu, news reports said.

In London, Amnesty International said the award “can only make a real difference if it prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression.’’

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