Prize May Boost Rights Movement

The selection of a Chinese pro-democracy activist as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is expected to aid his cause.

2010.10.08
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liuxiaobob&w305.jpg Photo of Liu Xiaobo taken by his wife shortly before he was jailed.
Liu Xia

HONG KONG—The awarding of the coveted 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo will boost the global profile of China's pro-democracy and human rights movement, his wife and activists said.

The award will usher in an era of greater visibility but also of greater responsibility for Chinese activists working for human rights and political reform, Liu's wife Liu Xia said in Beijing.

"This prize brings with it great glory, but it also brings additional responsibility," she said after the Nobel Prize Committee announced the award in Oslo on Friday.

"I think that there is still a long road ahead for all the Liu Xiaobos, but if we work together, we can realize our dream of freedom and democracy for China."

Liu Xia thanked the five-member Nobel Prize Committee "for having the courage to make this award to a convicted criminal inside a Chinese jail."

Expected impact

Beijing-based dissident Chen Ziming, who, like Liu Xiaobo, served a long jail term in the wake of the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement, said he expects the award to also have an impact on China's political establishment.

"This is the good news that Chinese pro-democracy activists have been waiting to hear," he said.

"It is going to give a huge morale boost to all those people who have been supporting the pro-democracy movement for many years, and it's a huge boost to the process of democratization in China."

"It will also come as a huge psychological shock to those within the current political system ... Of course officials will make a fuss about it, but that is all on the surface."

"What I think is important is the internal sense of shock that they will be feeling."

Boost to Constitution

Bao Tong, former aide to the ousted late Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, who served a seven-year jail term in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown, agreed.

"The Nobel Committee was right to make this award," Bao said from his Beijing home, where he has been held under house arrest since his release from prison.

"It's an important decision and will provide a huge boost along the road towards a constitutionally ruled China."

"The authorities should know that there is no way out if they go backwards," Bao said.

"I hope that China will become a country that takes responsibility for its own constitution and towards its own citizens. Only then can it start to take responsibility for world peace."

Beijing-based scholar and Charter 08 signatory Zhang Zuhua said the award is also a reward for the hundreds of people who signed Charter 08, and who have been the targets of police harassment and surveillance ever since the document was published online to mark World Human Rights Day in 2008.

"Personally I believe that this prize gives enormous encouragement to the Chinese people in their tireless struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights," Zhang said.

Call for release

A number of groups in Hong Kong, where people enjoy a greater degree of press freedom and political power than their mainland counterparts, called for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo in the wake of the announcement.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association, which has expressed concerns about the erosion of press freedoms in the former British colony since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997, issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo and for the protection of freedom of speech enshrined in China's constitution.

Former 1989 student leader Wang Dan, currently based in Taiwan, said the award could signal a change in attitude in Western countries towards China's human rights record.

"I think that Liu Xiaobo's severe sentence had a big impact on Western countries," Wang said.

"It made them realize that taking a softer line with China and refusing to put pressure on the Chinese government wasn't going to improve the human rights situation."

Little short-term change

But while many outside China are hoping that Liu's prize will speed up political reform in China, prominent Chinese blogger Mo Zhixu said he doubts that any real change will be forthcoming in the short-term.

"The government has control over the media and all the means of propaganda," Mo said. "It will be doing its utmost to minimize the impact of this in the short term."

But he said that in the longer term, the award may reap benefits for Chinese political reforms.

"It's a milestone, a marker, on a longer road," he said. "It will spread on the Internet, and by word of mouth, and its influence will gradually soak through the whole of society and encourage more and more people to make an effort."

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based rights lawyer Pan Jiawei said anyone fighting for their rights in China will be greatly encouraged by the award.

"It is extremely good news for all those people in China who are fighting to defend their rights, for writers with different opinions, and for the whole Charter 08 movement," Pan said.

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

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