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December 05, 2012

China Defends Imprisonment of Nobel Winner

by VOA News

China has dismissed an appeal by a group of prominent Nobel laureates who want Beijing to free imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo.

The group of 134 Nobel laureates sent an open letter Tuesday to Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, asking him to "immediately and unconditionally release" Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for inciting subversion.

Official reaction

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters Wednesday that the letter represents an interference in China's internal affairs.

"China is a law-abiding country. Liu Xiaobo was lawfully sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment by the judicial organ because he committed an offense against Chinese law," he said. "The Chinese government opposes outsiders handling matters in any way that would interfere in its judicial sovereignty and internal matters."

When asked what specific law Liu violated, Hong refused to comment.

Chinese authorities sentenced the 56-year-old Liu to prison in 2009 on subversion charges related to his co-authoring of "Charter 08," a manifesto calling for political reforms and greater rights in Communist-ruled China.

After he won the Peace Prize in 2010, authorities placed his wife Liu Xia under house arrest before she could accept the prize in his place. She has not been publicly charged with a crime.

Letter to Xi Jinping

The letter, which was signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, said the release of Liu and his wife would be an "essential first step" toward embracing the fundamental rights of Chinese citizens. The Nobel laureates warned that no government can restrict freedom of thought and association without hindering its development.

Many of those involved in the project were skeptical that Beijing would take any immediate action to improve Liu's situation. Emmanouil Athanasiou of the International Committee for Liu Xiaobo said that China cannot deny responsibility for holding a Nobel prize winner in detention.

"Whatever China says, today it's the only country in the world having a Nobel Peace Prize laureate behind bars. And this is an unacceptable situation. Legally, politically, and morally," said Athanasiou.

Nobel literature winner Mo Yan

Meanwhile, China's Nobel literature winner Mo Yan, who enjoys the support of the Communist Party, is headed Wednesday for Sweden to collect his award. Mo surprised some of his critics in October when he called for the release of Liu Xiaobo.

State media reported this week that Mo would be accompanied by a delegation of government officials on his trip to Stockholm, causing some to wonder whether Beijing feared he would make controversial remarks in his acceptance speech.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei expressed confidence in Mo on Wednesday, saying he "loves his country and his people" and that he hopes the trip to Sweden for the acceptance of the prize "goes smoothly."

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.