HONG KONG—Imprisoned Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, drawing anger from Beijing and raising hopes of political reforms in the world’s most populous nation.
The 54-year-old Liu was given the coveted prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," the Nobel Committee announced in Oslo on
Drawing parallels between Liu and former South African president Nelson Mandela, Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjorn Jagland said the award was intended to boost the pro-democracy movement in China.
"Human rights are very important for building peace, because democratic nations don't go to war with each other," Jagland said.
In Beijing, the award drew a furious response from China, which accused
the Nobel panel of violating its own principles by honoring "a
criminal," AP reported.
"Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial
departments for violating Chinese law," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Awarding him "runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize."
Beijing summoned Norway's ambassador to protest the decision.
U.S. President Barack Obama said China should release Liu as “soon as possible,” describing him as "an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and nonviolent means," according to a White House statement.
While China has made dramatic progress on economic reform and improving the lives of its people, "this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace,” said Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The prize, including U.S. $1.5 million, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that “the severe punishment” meted out to Liu had made him “the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China."
The committee cited Liu's participation in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 and the so-called Charter 08 document that he co-authored and which landed him in prison.
The blueprint called for greater freedom in China and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance.Netizens react
Online reaction to the news was swift even as Beijing moved to prevent reports of Liu’s award from spreading.
"The world is both very large and very small," wrote Beijing-based academic and rights campaigner Cui Weiping via the microblogging
service Twitter. "We are not alone. Brother Xiaobo, you have not suffered in vain."
"The whole world is with you, and with all the prisoners of conscience
currently in jail in China."
Chinese officials had hit out at Liu's nomination before Friday's announcement, warning that a peace prize for Liu could damage
diplomatic ties with Norway.
Liu's page on the official Nobel site was already awash with comments in Chinese and English.
"Long live [Liu Xiaobo]!" wrote one commenter. "God Bless China!" said another. "Now we have glimpsed hope," said a third.
"Liu Xiaobo" and other keywords related to China's
pro-democracy movement have long been on a blacklist used by
Chinese government and Internet service providers to filter and block content
the authorities deem subversive.
Netizens discussing Liu's award via Twitter would need to use a variety of circumvention tools to get around the intricate system of
filters and blocks known as the Great Firewall, or GFW.True honor
Liu's wife Liu Xia said in Beijing that the award “was unexpected but a happy surprise."
She said it would usher in an era of greater visibility but also of greater responsibility for Chinese activists working for human rights and political reform.
"I hope that the international community will take this opportunity to call on the Chinese government to press for my husband’s release," she said.
As activists inside and outside China took in the news, Liu Xia said the police were waiting for her.
"[The police] are sitting there waiting for me to get my things together," said Liu, who said she had no way of knowing whether she would be held outside the capital at an unknown location, a common way of isolating prominent dissidents and their families in China.
She said police had promised to drive her to the northeastern city of Jingzhou, where Liu is being held. "They said I could see him tomorrow."
“Let's hope [I'll get to see him]."
Liu was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for his role in authoring Charter 08 that called for sweeping changes in China's government.
A pro-democracy manifesto that called on the Communist Party to enact
political reforms and uphold the constitutional rights of Chinese
citizens, Charter 08 was signed by 303 mainland intellectuals and sent shock waves through the highest echelons of China’s leadership.
While more than 100 Chinese scholars, lawyers, and reform campaigners had lobbied the Nobel committee on behalf of Liu, a number of
dissidents also opposed his nomination, accusing him of not being
critical enough of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.Breach of agreements
The Nobel Committee said in its announcement that China has enjoyed
unparalleled economic development in recent years, but has lagged
behind on human rights protection. "China's new status must entail increased responsibility."
"China is in breach of several international
agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own
provisions concerning political rights."
Citing Article 35 of China's constitution, which states that "citizens
of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of
demonstration," the committee said the government had failed to
deliver on its promises.
"In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed
for China's citizens," it said.
The exiled Dalai Lama, also a Nobel laureate, pressed China for Liu's release as well as others "imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression."
Previous Nobel Peace Prize laureates also included Burma's opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi and South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Archibishop Desmond Tutu.Reported by Xin Yu and Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in
English by Luisetta Mudie.