Liu Xiaobo, a prominent Chinese dissident, has won an international award as a defender of press freedoms. The announcement comes as a number of prominent activists in China are being arrested or detained.
Despite repeated government efforts to silence him, Liu Xiaobo refuses to back down. The former Beijing University teacher has been in and out of prison since 1989, when he spoke out in support of the students involved in the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Wednesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders honored his courage and his commitment to a free press, naming him the leading defender of press freedoms in 2004.
Vincent Brossel of Reporters without Borders says Mr. Liu has consistently championed an open society, and has called for the release of jailed reporters, at a risk to his personal freedom. "He's facing a real risk," said Vincent Brossel. "He has been fighting for freedom of expression for years. He can be arrested at any time."
Forty nine-year-old Mr. Liu is the director of the Chinese PEN Center, the country's only independent advocate for the rights of journalists. He spent two years in jail for participating in the 1989 democracy movement. In 1996, the government sentenced him to another three years in a labor camp for criticizing the Communist Party. Earlier this year he published an online essay that criticized government use of subversion charges against some journalists.
Authorities cut off his telephone and Internet service in May, and repeatedly denied his requests for a passport. He and two other prominent intellectuals were briefly detained earlier this month, accused of revealing state secrets to foreigners.
Mr. Brossel says Beijing once again trying to tighten its control over its social critics, and cited a number of recent actions. "Officials are targeting respected intellectuals, journalists, freedom activists in the past three days one journalist has been arrested and one farmers' rights activist was under detention," he said.
Other press freedom awards went to an Algerian journalist who was jailed for libel after exposing corruption, and a Mexican weekly newspaper that saw three of its reporters killed after a series of investigative reports.