Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

In a sharp rebuke to Beijing, the Nobel Committee named imprisoned Chinese scholar Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Peace Prize winner for “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The decision by the five-member committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament comes over the objection of the Chinese government, which considers Liu a criminal.But when the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, announced the award, commenting that, “China has become a big power in economic terms as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism,” it’s been reported that the broadcast on the BBC and CNN went black. This will have affected both tourist and upmarket foreign hotels as well as places where foreigners gather, with the blackout extending to reports on the Prize which later aired. Major mainland news portals have yet to publish news of Liu’s prize. On Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, users were briefly permitted to post his name. There have also been complaints that text messages containing “Liu Xiaobo” were blocked by the major cell phone service providers.The Chinese government has since responded to Lui’s award. “To give the Peace Prize to such a person is completely contrary to the purpose of the award and a blasphemy of the Peace Prize,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website. He added that the award could harm China’s relations with Norway. As for Lui’s wife – surrounded by police at their Beijing apartment – Liu Xia wasn’t allowed out to meet reporters, giving brief remarks by phone and text message instead. She said she was happy and planned to deliver the news to Liu at prison on Saturday. In a statement on her behalf by Freedom Now (the legal NGO which has advocated for Liu Xiaobo), she said, “I am grateful to the Nobel Committee for selecting my husband, Liu Xiaobo, to be the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. It is a true honor for him and one for which I know he would say he is not worthy … I hope that the international community will take this opportunity to call on the Chinese government to press for my husband’s release.”

A literary critic who was a leader of the 1989 antigovernment protests in Beijing, Liu, 54, has endured multiple bouts of detention and house arrest for criticizing the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Last year, he was sentenced on Christmas Day, when much of the foreign press was away, to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” He is now held in a cell with five common criminals at Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning province, about 500 km northeast of Beijing, where his wife lives. The evidence against him was a series of essays he had written questioning the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party and Charter 08, a human-rights manifesto that he co-authored. In January, a group including VÁclav Havel and Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama co-signed an article saying Liu deserved the prize for “his bravery and clarity of thought about China’s future.”(See pictures of the Dalai Lama.)

While a few Peace Prize laureates had been previously locked up by the regimes they rallied against – most famously Nelson Mandela in apartheid-era South Africa – it is rare for the award to be given to someone still imprisoned. Liu now joins Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won the 1935 prize while jailed by the Nazis, as the only Nobel Peace Prize laureates honored while in detention. While oddsmakers had listed Liu as the favorite for this year’s prize, many of his closest supporters doubted his chances. “I don’t think he can win,” his wife had previously told TIME before the announcement. “But whether he wins or not, this will help bring attention to his case.”

The Nobel Prize has long been a sensitive subject for China. While physicists such as Frank Yang and Lee Tsung-Dao and novelist Gao Xingjian have won the prize after leaving China, no mainland Chinese resident has ever won a Nobel. The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom China considers a citizen, was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989 after the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing. Last year Shanghai-born Charles K. Kao shared the Physics Prize for his work on fiber optics, but he now holds U.S. and U.K. citizenship. The People’s Republic hungers for a Nobel it can call its own. But it opposed the prize for Liu. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said earlier this month that Liu broke the law, and “his actions are completely counter to the purpose of the Nobel Prize.” In September, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute told the Norwegian news agency NTB that he had been warned by a Chinese diplomat that awarding Liu would damage relations between Oslo and Beijing – yahoonews