2010/10/08

Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, October  8, 2010 (AFP) - Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, sparking a furious backlash from Beijing and renewed Western calls for his immediate release.

The 54-year-old writer and university professor was honoured "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in his announcement.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace," he added.

Liu was sentenced last December to 11 years behind bars for subversion, following the 2008 release of "Charter 08", a manifesto for reform signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics and writers.

He is one of only three people to win the Peace Prize while in prison, after 1991 laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was in a Nazi jail when he won in 1935.

Following Friday's announcement rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as Germany and France called on China to release Liu immediately.

Former Peace Prize winners the Dalai Lama and Lech Walesa of Poland also hailed Liu's win.
China, however, reacted furiously, calling the award "blasphemy" and a violation of the principles of the Peace Prize.

China's reaction raised concerns of a crackdown on other pro-democracy activists, but Jagland said that was no reason not to speak about human rights violations.

Liu, who has been detained several times, was also a key figure in the pro-democracy student movement in China in 1989, which was brutally crushed by Chinese authorities and culminated in the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The Chinese government has frequently warned the Norwegian Nobel Committee to steer clear of pro-democracy advocates in general, and recently specifically warned them off Liu.

China says Liu's award will damage relations with Norway at a time when the two countries are negotiating on a trade agreement which Oslo hopes to sign by the end of the year.

But instead of ducking what could be a pending diplomatic row, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was among the first to congratulate Liu.

"Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the prize for defending freedom of expression and democracy in a way that deserves attention and respect," he said in a statement.

Jagland meanwhile insisted that the Nobel Committee has the right to question the human rights record of one of the world's great powers.

"China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights," he said, adding that "we have a responsibility to speak when others are unable to speak."

Liu had yet to be informed of the prize, Jagland said, and in China news of the award was hard to find on TV and major Internet sites.

But his wife, Liu Xia, said she was "so excited" at the news, and thanked her husband's supporters including the Dalai Lama.
She told AFP police had advised her that they would take her to the northeastern province of Liaoning, where Liu is imprisoned, so that she could tell him on Saturday of his Nobel win.

In recent years Chinese dissidents have routinely been named as top candidates for the prestigious prize but have not won. In 1989, China was incensed that the Nobel Committee chose the Dalai Lama.
On Friday, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said Liu's win represented "the international community's recognition of the increasing voices among the Chinese people in pushing China towards political, legal and constitutional reforms."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "We welcome this recognition of the very important role human rights defenders play in China and in many other countries, as well as the challenges they face."

"Advocates like Liu Xiaobo can make an important contribution to China's development," she added.

But another senior figure in the democracy movement, Wei Jingsheng, said others deserved the Nobel Peace Prize more than Liu, calling him a moderate willing to work with Beijing.

The award worth 10 million Swedish kroner (1.49 million dollars, 1.09 million euros), which surprisingly went last year to US President Barack Obama, will be presented in Oslo on December 10.