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Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo was a tribute to all free speech activists

Posted by Author on December 10, 2010

Reporters Without Borders regards today’s Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, which it attended, as an historic celebration of the paramount importance of freedom of expression. Awarded to jailed Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo, the prize was a tribute to all free speech activists, like the Nobel Peace Prizes that went to Russia’s Andrei Sakharov and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
If China wants to refurbish its international image, it must free Liu Xiaobo, his wife and all its prisoners of conscience, and demonstrate a clear commitment to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if it chooses to continue down the road of repression, as is to be feared, all of his efforts, including its media efforts, will be doomed to failure.

Urgent need to free Liu Xiaobo

At today’s ceremony in Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize was placed in an empty chair that stood in for China’s most famous prisoner of conscience, because the Chinese authorities did not release Liu Xiaobo and did not allow any members of his family to receive the prize on his behalf. Looking at the empty chair, Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland described it as “a very strong symbol that shows how appropriate this prize was.”

In his speech presenting the award, Jagland said: “We regret that the laureate is not present here today. He is in isolation in a prison in northeast China. Nor can the laureate’s wife, Liu Xia, or his closest relatives be here with us. No medal or diploma will therefore be presented here today. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. We congratulate Liu Xiaobo with this year’s peace prize.”

Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read the address entitled “I have no enemies” that Liu wrote in prison and sent to his wife on the eve of his trial on 25 December 2009 in Beijing. This was the first time that a Nobel peace laureate has not been present or represented at the award ceremony since the Nazi regime prevented a German peace activist from travelling to Oslo in 1936.

Jean-François Julliard, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, and Vincent Brossel, the head of its Asia-Pacific Desk, attended today’s ceremony and participated in various gatherings organized in Oslo to press for Liu Xiaobo’s release.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the lack of courage displayed by certain democratically-elected government such as those of the Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, Serbia and Pakistan, which chose to stay away from today’s ceremony as a result of pressure from China, pressure that violates their sovereignty. In all, 19 countries turned down invitations to attend. Beijing told other countries to boycott the event and threatened those that support Liu Xiaobo with “consequences.”

The Chinese responded with insults to today’s celebration, describing the laureate as “criminal” and his supporters as “clowns.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu had said “the vast majority of the international community” would not attend.

The official Chinese newspaper Global Times yesterday wrote: “The West has shown great creativity in conspiring against China (…) The West is using this year’s Nobel Peace prize to sound the charge against China’s ideology, aiming to undermine the benign surroundings for China’s future development.”

China has also responded with crude stunts such as the sudden creation of the Confucius Peace Prize, with prize money of 100,000 yuan (11,400 euros), which a Chinese organization awarded yesterday to former Taiwanese vice-president Lien Chan for encouraging rapprochement between Taiwan and China. Lien Chan was unaware of the award and did not attend the ceremony.

Beijing also pressured Chinese citizens living in Norway to participate in protests against the decision to award the Nobel to Liu Xiaobo. Amnesty International said that, since 8 October, Chinese residents had been receiving official visits or summonses to meetings at which they were told to protest. Around 50 Chinese staged an anti-Nobel protest in the centre of Oslo today.

Today, World Human Rights Day, the second anniversary of the publication in China of Charter 08 (which Liu Xiaobo helped to draft), the situation is alarming for freedom of expression in China. The foreign media and dissidents are under close surveillance. Police are guarding the Beijing building in which Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, is living under house arrest.

Neither the couple’s relatives nor human rights activists can currently be reached. Some, such as human rights lawyers Li Fangping and Teng Biao, have been removed from Beijing. Human rights activist Zhang Zuhua, one of Charter 08’s authors, was abducted yesterday.

Foreign TV broadcasts of the award ceremony were censored. The broadcasts of CNN, BBC television and TV5 were interrupted and the screen was left blank. Access to the websites of the Norwegian TV station NRK and several other foreign media were blocked. Liu Xiaobo’s wife was unable to communicate with the outside world, either by Twitter or by phone, the methods she normally uses.

The words “empty chair” and “Oslo” are being censored on the Internet in China. The keywords “Oslo”, “empty chair” and “empty seat” are blocked on Renren, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook. Internet users have responded by posting photos of all kinds of empty chairs.

Reporters Without Borders

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