News / Asia

Nobel Committee Awards Peace Prize to Jailed Chinese Dissident

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair with the Nobel medal and diploma for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a ceremony honoring Liu at city hall in Oslo, Norway Dec. 10, 2010.
Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair with the Nobel medal and diploma for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a ceremony honoring Liu at city hall in Oslo, Norway Dec. 10, 2010.

The head of the Nobel committee placed this year's peace prize award on the empty seat of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu is imprisoned in China and was unable to collect the award himself.

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said Chinese dissident Liu should not be in prison. "Liu has only exercised his civil rights," said Jagland. "He has not done anything wrong. He must be released."

Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China related to his campaign to end China's one-party political system.

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Neither he nor his wife was allowed to leave China in order to collect the award.

In his place, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read a text written by Liu.

He dedicated his prize to the "lost souls" of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Liu was part of the pro-democracy protests and encouraged students to be peaceful.

Nobel chairman Jangland said China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is carrying mankind's fate on its shoulders. He praised the country's fast economic advances but said civil rights must be put in place.

"Every power system must be counter balanced by popularly elected control, free media, and the right of individual citizens to criticize," he said.

Kerry Brown is an expert with the Asia Program of London's Chatham House. He says by awarding the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Committee has raised the debate about human rights in China.

"It shows that economic engagement is one thing but every country has to find their own way of developing their political systems and I suppose this raises questions about how we can have dialogue about that," said Brown.

The Chinese government says the Nobel committee attacked its political and legal system by awarding the peace prize to Liu. Beijing pressured international diplomats not to attend Friday's ceremony in Norway.

China's diplomatic offensive persuaded about 20 other countries to stay away from Norway, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.  But Brown says that shouldn't be seen as a major boycott.

"Even last year when President Barack Obama was the laureate, ten countries did not send representatives from their embassies in Oslo," he said. "And so for all of the diplomatic effort that China has put into this, having five or six extra not going is not really a huge outcome."

U.S. President Barack Obama, who won the Peace Prize last year, said in a statement that Liu should be released as soon as possible.

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