Anger Over Nobel Exit Ban

China is banning activists and intellectuals from leaving the country ahead of the Nobel Award ceremony.

artist-305.jpg Chinese artist Ai Weiwei while under house arrest in Beijing, Nov. 7, 2010.

Prominent Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei said on Thursday he was prevented from leaving the country ahead of a Nobel prize-giving ceremony in Oslo next week, as Beijing hit out once again at Norway for backing this year's award to jailed activist Liu Xiaobo.

Ai said he was taken away by police after clearing immigration controls on his way to South Korea.

"This country treats the rule of law and the rights of its citizens as a performance," he said.

"It has never taken these things seriously in all these years," he said.

Large numbers of Liu's supporters and invitees to the Nobel ceremony have already been prevented from leaving China, with some, including Liu's wife, Liu Xia, being held under house arrest.

Academics and lawyers have also complained that they have been prevented from leaving the country to attend events long scheduled in advance, thereby wasting their money and throwing their professional lives into disarray.

Departures denied

"This afternoon I was about to board a plane at the Beijing Capital Airport for Singapore to attend a conference, when I was taken aside by the border guards," top Chinese economist and social critic Mao Yushi said on Thursday.

"It reminded me of the Cultural Revolution ... They told me I was a dangerous element," he said.

"They didn't know what I was on my way to do," said Mao, who was on his way to attend a conference on the Himalayan region.

"They just stopped me from going ... I've never had this [happen] before," he said. "I've been outside China hundreds of times. This is the first time I have come across anything like this."

Mao, who was not on a list of supporters invited to Oslo by Liu's wife, said he believes his exit ban was nonetheless linked to the Dec. 10 Nobel award ceremony in Oslo.

"They didn't know the reason ... They were just carrying out orders from higher up," he said.

"It is probably connected [to the Nobel prize ceremony]. I heard that a lot of people have been prevented from leaving the country, all for the same reason."

"We pay for this government, and it interferes with our personal freedom. It's a poor state of affairs," he said.

Retired Nanjing University professor and veteran activist Sun Wenguang said his passport application was turned down by the authorities earlier this week after he openly stated he wished to attend the Nobel event.

"I wanted to go to Oslo, Norway, to attend the Nobel prize ceremony," Sun said.

"Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia sent me an invitation. My name was on the list. So I decided to apply."

Sun said that he had lodged a passport application with local police on Nov. 15, but that it was turned down.

Netizens called on Nobel officials to read out a list of all those who have been prevented from attending during the ceremony.

Relations damaged

China said Thursday that the decision by the Nobel committee to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, who is currently serving an 11-year jail term for subversion, would harm ties with Norway.

"I think it is difficult to maintain China-Norway relations as well as they were in the past, because the Nobel Committee conferred the Nobel Peace Prize on a convicted Chinese criminal, and the Norwegian government publicly expressed its support for such a decision," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference.

"I deem it reasonable and understandable for some [Chinese] departments to cast doubt on normal bilateral exchange and cooperation with Norway," she told reporters.

She said the award showed overt support for criminal activities in China, and constituted "flagrant defiance" and "gross interference" in China's judicial system.

"The issue of Liu Xiaobo is not a matter of free speech and human rights," Jiang said. "It is a matter of respecting other countries' judicial rights."

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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