Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, placed the gold medal on an empty chair in honor of dissident Liu Xiaobo at the city hall in Oslo. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
The Nobel Peace Prize committee honored Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence in China for his 2008 document calling for democracy, at a ceremony in Norway Friday. Mr. Liu, who was represented on the stage by an empty chair, received a standing ovation from the crowd of dignitaries. Nobel Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland called for Xiaobo’s release, comparing his situation to that of former South African President Nelson Mandela and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
China, which blocked television coverage of the event and clamped down on Internet communications referring to it, called the Nobel ceremony a “political farce.” China boycotted the ceremony and was joined by 17 other countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt. Under pressure from the EU and human rights groups, Serbia reversed its decision to boycott at the last minute.
China had also warned the committee not to award Liu the prize, two weeks before the Oct. 8 announcement. On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu derided the committee as “clowns” and called the award an attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty.
In his absence, a statement Liu wrote before being jailed in 2009 was read aloud. In the document, entitled “I Have No Enemies,”, he wrote:
“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.”
His wife, Liu Xia, was prevented from traveling to Oslo to receive the award and the accompanying $1.4 million prize. Police maintained a presence at her Beijing home, and her telephone and Internet have been cut off.
Liu Xiaobo, who has been an activist for more than 20 years, served a two-year jail sentence for participating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He told the BBC shortly before his most recent arrest that the event “made a very deep impression” on him, spurring an ongoing activism that also earned him three years in a labor camp in the 1990s.
He joins the ranks of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have been unable to collect their awards in person, a roster that includes Suu Kyi, former Polish President Lech Walesa, who opted to stay in Poland for fear he would be denied re-enty, and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was held in a concentration camp.