Imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo on Friday won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
Political, religious and human rights leaders around the world welcomed the announcement, saying it upholds the struggle for freedom and human rights. Many called on the Chinese government to release Liu.
The Nobel Committee in Oslo made the announcement Friday, saying it "has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace."
President Barack Obama described Liu as and "eloquent and courageous spokesman" who had "sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs." He urged the Chinese government to release Liu as soon as possible.
Liu's wife issued a statement describing the prize as a "true honor," and she asked the international community to press the Chinese government for her husband's release.
China reacted by accusing the Nobel committee of honoring a "criminal."
Liu was sentenced last December to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." He had co-authored and signed the Charter 08 manifesto that calls for political reforms in China.
The Nobel Committee said that through the harsh punishment given to him, Liu has become the "foremost symbol" of a wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.
France, Germany and Poland joined the chorus welcoming the announcement.
The Dalai Lama congratulated Liu, and urged China to release him and all others imprisoned for "exercising their freedom of expression."
EU President Jerry Buzek described Liu as "one of the staunchest defenders of human rights" fighting for freedom using non-violent means.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch welcomed the Nobel committee's decision.
China earlier told a Nobel official that Liu is not the kind of person who should be considered for the prestigious award. The Nobel Committee said Friday it is "independent of governments" and "has a responsibility to speak when others are not able or willing to speak."
Last year, the Nobel Committee shocked the world by awarding the peace prize to U.S. President Barack Obama, after he had been in office less than a year and while the U.S. was waging simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.