As Nobel Ceremony Looms, Calls Grow for China to Free Peace Prize Winner

By Patrick Goodenough | December 6, 2010 | 4:52 AM EST

Protesters diplay photos of jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese government liaison office in Hong Kong on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

( – Ahead of this week’s Nobel peace prize award ceremony, supporters of this year’s winner, imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, held demonstrations in Hong Kong and elsewhere on Sunday calling for his release.

Beijing earlier mounted a campaign against the award decision, urging countries to boycott Friday’s ceremony and refusing to allow Chinese citizens associated with Liu to travel to Oslo.

Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since the award was first announced in October. More than a dozen Chinese invited to attend the ceremony have been barred from leaving China in recent weeks, according to human rights monitors.

Hundreds of protestors marched from the Hong Kong government offices to the official Chinese government complex on Sunday. The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a negotiated agreement allowing it to retain limited autonomy, thus making it possible for citizens to protest in ways that would be illegal elsewhere in China.

Marchers carried banners depicting Liu and other jailed Chinese dissidents. Other events took place in the U.S. and Canada.

It remains unclear exactly how Friday’s ceremony in Oslo will proceed, given that neither the laureate nor close family members will be there to receive the award.

During the Soviet era the Nobel committee presented prizes awarded to Polish trade unionist Lech Walesa (1983) and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov (1975) to their respective wives. Walesa chose not to travel for fear the Polish authorities would not allow him to return; Moscow refused Sakharov permission to travel. When Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was unable to receive the prize in 1991, her husband and sons received it on her behalf.

Some rights advocates are urging the 2010 award organizers to ensure that chairs are pointedly left empty – not just for Liu and his wife but also for other prominent Chinese unable to attend.

This undated image provided by Voice of America shows Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has won the 2010 Nobel peace prize. (AP Photo/

Liu, a veteran of the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square, is serving an 11-year jail term for “subverting state power,” a charge arising from his role in authoring a pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08.

China, which had earlier advised the Nobel committee not to honor him, reacted with anger when it was announced that he had won the prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” China

State media launched a campaign to vilify the “criminal” Liu and the award committee, an independent five-person body whose members are appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

“The Norwegian government expressed their open support [for the decision],” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference Thursday. “It is difficult to maintain friendly relations with Norway as in the past.”

The award decision was widely praised in the West, but several governments – including those in Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates – vocally criticized it.

Governments usually are represented at the annual event by their ambassadors in Norway. The Nobel organizers said that some 36 countries have confirmed they will attend this year’s ceremony while more than a dozen did not respond. At least six countries – China, Russia, Cuba, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Iraq – turned down invitations.

A number of governments in Europe reported receiving written or personal appeals from China urging them to stay away.

India has been told that its attendance at the event would be tantamount to interfering in China’s sovereignty and would impact bilateral ties.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks at a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is scheduled to visit New Delhi next week, and Indian media have reported on veiled Chinese threats that the important trip could be affected. The Indian government has yet to announce a final decision on attending.

Bahukutumbi Raman, a former Indian cabinet official and security analyst, warned that if China succeeds in “bullying” countries into staying away, “the world is going to see even more unpalatable behavior on the part of China.”

“The time has come to stop appeasing China and remove the impression from its mind that it can have its way on issues of interest to it by using its economic clout,” he said. “The international community should reject the Chinese pressure, whatever be the consequences, and should be represented in full strength at the function.”

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel and former South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu in a joint op-ed published Sunday urged China to release Liu.

“Like its response to Charter 08, the Chinese government’s reaction to the Committee’s announcement demonstrates its extreme sensitivity to criticism and the lengths it is prepared to go to prevent it, both inside and outside China,” they wrote.

“International scrutiny of the Chinese government’s widespread violation of fundamental rights at home and abroad is not meddling in its ‘internal affairs’; it flows from its legal commitments to respect the inherent dignity and equality of every person.”

The Charter 08 initiative was inspired by Charter 77, a democracy manifesto penned by Havel and other anti-communist activists in former Czechoslovakia in 1977.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow