The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote late Tuesday or Wednesday on a resolution to congratulate Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. A number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers called on the Chinese government to release Liu and all other political and religious detainees from prison.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers and prominent human rights leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to honor Liu Xiaobo for his efforts to promote peaceful change in China. Several lawmakers said they were joyous that Liu will be recognized for his lifework, but sad that the spotlight at the award ceremony in Oslo will be on an empty chair. Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic reforms in China. Chinese authorities are holding his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest and will not let her attend the ceremony.
Republican Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia called attention to the fact that Nazi Germany blocked the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Carl von Ossietzky, from attending his award ceremony, while the Soviet Union barred Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov from going in 1975, and Burma's military rulers stopped democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi from attending her award ceremony in 1991.
"China should be ashamed and China should be embarrassed to be in the company of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Burma," Wolf said.
At least 19 countries have announced they will not attend the ceremony on Friday.
Congressman David Wu is a Democrat from Oregon and the first Chinese-American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He pointed to China's great history and accomplishments, and said it is time for the current government to change course or it will be judged harshly by history.
"By failing to honor the fundamental rights guaranteed by its own constitution, the current Chinese government is not only failing the great Chinese people, it is also failing to live up to China's 5000-year-old history, one of the greatest civilizations in the world," Wu said.
The U.S. lawmakers said Liu represents tens of thousands of Chinese political and religious prisoners who are in prison, labor camps, and who are often tortured, and called on China to release all of them. Chinese-American human rights activist Harry Wu said he believes this award marks a critical fork in the road for the Chinese government.
"In this moment to nominate a Chinese as a Nobel peace prize winner, that means encourage not only Liu Xiaobo, but many dissidents, many common people, who say, 'Wow, this is a right! We need our freedom and we need our democracy,'" he said.
Harry Wu also pointed out that President Barack Obama will receive Chinese President Hu Jintao next month, and called on Mr. Obama to take a much tougher stand on human rights abuses in China.
Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey said that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California are planning to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony, unless there are major votes in the House of Representatives on Friday.