Jailed China Dissident Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize

BY Tom LeGro  October 8, 2010 at 10:14 AM EST

Liu Xiaobo
Protesters in Hong Kong demonstrate to free Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday. Photo by Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images.

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The award touched off an angry response from China, which accused the Norwegian Nobel Committee of honoring “a criminal.”

In its announcement, the Nobel committee wrote, “Among the many people campaigning for human rights in China, Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, has become the most visible symbol of the struggle.”

Chinese state media immediately blacked out the news, the Associated Press reported, and the Chinese government censored Nobel Prize reports from websites.

Liu, 54, was sentenced on Christmas day 2009 to 11 years in prison for “subversion of state power.” He is the first to be honored while still in prison, although other Nobel winners have been under house arrest or imprisoned before receiving the prize.

The Nobel committee cited Liu’s participation in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the Charter 08 document he co-authored in 2008, which called for greater freedom in China and an end to the Communist Party’s political dominance. Liu was arrested in December 2008, two days before Charter 08 was made public. More than 300 signed on to the document.

Liu first came to prominence in the 1980s as a literary critic. He had been arrested several times since spending 20 months in detention after the 1989 protests. He was jailed for three years in the 1990s but remained among the most outspoken critics of the Chinese government.

You can read Liu’s last public statement here, issued just two days before he was sentenced in 2009. An excerpt reads:

“I have been once again shoved into the dock by the enemy mentality of the regime. But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my “June Second Hunger Strike Declaration” twenty years ago — I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.

“Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation’s development and social change, to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.”

Here’s a 2008 video of Liu put out by the PEN American Center. In it, he discusses freedom of expression in China:

Foreign Policy’s Nicholas Bequelin writes: “Charter 08 was consciously modeled after Charter 77, the pathbreaking document published in 1977 in which Czech and Slovak intellectuals courageously pledged ‘to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.’ It called for an end to the Communist Party’s one-party rule and the establishment of a system based on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy in the former state of Czechoslovakia. Liu is sometimes called the Vaclav Havel of China.”

The BBC’s Martin Patience reports from Beijing: “In the weeks leading up to this announcement, Beijing was very strong on its statements. It said that Liu Xiaobo was not a suitable candidate. Beijing regards him as a criminal. … Many Chinese people will see this as an attack by the West on what they stand for and certainly many nationalists will see this as an example of the West trying to demonise China. … The statement of the Nobel Peace Prize committee will not get a lot of traction with ordinary people. The authorities have very effectively given him no publicity whatsoever.”

The Economist’s Asia View doesn’t see much hope for Liu’s release: “There is likely to be much online comment in support of Mr Liu’s award in China, but the Nobel prize is unlikely to galvanise any concerted protest action such as the party would find difficult to suppress. There will be an upsurge in demands from abroad for Mr Liu’s release. Yet major Western powers are little inclined to jeopardise their relationships with China for the sake of individual dissidents.”

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan recently spoke to Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, about his condition: “Since May, he has been held in Jinzhou, Liaoning province in north-east China — far from his Beijing home — where he shares a cell with five other men. They sleep in bunk beds and have a separate eating space and bathroom in an area that altogether measures around 30 sq metres. Each morning and evening he is allowed out for an hour’s exercise.”

We’ll have more on Liu Xiaobo on Friday’s NewsHour.