Protesters in front of Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles urge release of Liu Xiaobo. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia on Friday in an award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, where his absence will be marked by an empty chair.
Liu is in jail, serving an 11-year sentence for writing online essays and a manifesto demanding political reforms, human rights and an independent judicial system. China regards the choice as a Western attempt to undermine the ruling Chinese Communist Party and has urged countries to skip the award ceremony.
“We will not change because of some wind blowing the grass and because of the interference of some clowns who are anti-China,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, according to Reuters.
Nineteen countries have said they will not go. Besides China, they are Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco. The BBC has a chart breaking down the various reasons given.
Forty-four of 65 embassies have accepted the invitation, according to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
Sasha Gong, a historian, columnist and former Chinese dissident who now lives in the United States, said the international recognition of Liu helped give the dissident community in China a mental boost.
Gong was a political activist in the 1970s and ’80s and was jailed for a year. Back then, “even though you were in jail, you knew you were right,” she said. Now, the dissident movement is much more depressed, she added, but the award shows them the world is with them.
Because of the global recession, countries might not feel like they have much leverage to press China on human rights, but those economic conditions won’t last, said Gong. And the Chinese government may in time realize that human freedom is the ultimate economic engine, she said.