China detains Australian national on way to Nobel ceremony

SHANGHAI, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - An Australian-based Chinese dissident has said police detained him for 24 hours at Shanghai's airport and forced him to return home in a bid to block him from attending Friday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Zhang Heci, an Australian citizen, was headed to Norway via China to attend an award ceremony in Oslo in honour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel peace laureate.

Zhang said police boarded his flight after it landed at Pudong airport and brought him to a holding area where he was searched, interrogated and not allowed to call his wife or the Australian consulate.

"They have no right to cut off my journey to Oslo to attend Liu Xiaobo's ceremony," Zhang wrote in a open letter to Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

"Instead they forced me to return to Australia, and before that, engaged in torturous mistreatment of me."

Liu, who is serving 11 years for subversion after co-authoring a petition calling for democratic reform, and his relatives are not expected to be able to attend the ceremony. His wife, Liu Xia, is currently under house arrest.

The Chinese consulate in Melbourne had granted Zhang a visa on December 1 to visit friends and family in China on his way to Oslo, he wrote in the letter posted Monday on the New York-based Human Rights in China website.

Zhang, a Melbourne-based writer who often comments on human rights and is a friend of Liu's, said he visits China every year without any problem.

Authorities gave no reason for detaining him for 24 hours and denied his nine requests to call his wife in Australia, he said.

They also refused to allow him to use transit facilities to travel directly to Norway without going through immigration, he said.

Four policemen guarded the room where he slept and two police watched him use the toilet "apparently enjoying the pleasure of humiliating me", he wrote.

A Shanghai government spokesman said he was not immediately aware of the detention, when contacted by AFP.

Scores of activists and lawyers have been prevented from leaving China in recent weeks in what is widely seen as a crackdown linked to the prize, which has angered the government.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said he was prevented from traveling to South Korea last week in a move he believes was linked to the Nobel ceremony.

Lawyer Mo Shaoping, whose firm represents the jailed Nobel laureate, said  immigration officials stopped him last month at Beijing's airport, where he had intended to board a flight to take him to a lawyers' conference in London.