Peace Prize awarded in absentia

Chinese laureate and jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo is represented by an empty chair at Nobel ceremony held in Oslo.

A packed gathering in Oslo gave a thunderous applause as a citation of Xiaobo was read out  [EPA]

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded in Oslo, Norway, but without the presence of laureate Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese dissident.

An empty chair represented the 54-year-old writer and former professor, after the Chinese government barred him and his wife from attending the ceremony on Friday.

Thorbjoern Jagland, the Nobel committee chairman, said Liu had “done nothing wrong” and called on Beijing to release him in a speech at the ceremony.

“Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not done anything wrong. He must be released.”

Jagland paid tribute to Liu’s pro-democracy campaigning, most significantly for attempting to stop clashes on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“Liu has told his wife that he would like this year’s peace prize to be dedicated to ‘the lost souls from the 4th of June’.”

“It is a pleasure for us to fulfil his wish,” Jagland said.

‘Political theatre’

Liu was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October in recognition of his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”, beating nominees including Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter.

Barack Obama, the US president, said he regretted that Liu and his wife were unable to attend the  ceremony, and urged China to do more to advance democracy.

“We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.

“But Mr Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society,
and the rule of law,” he said in a statement on Friday.

China hit back at the award, describing the ceremony as “political theatre” and that its awarding of Liu was a  product of Cold War mentality.

“We resolutely oppose any country or any person using the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere with China’s internal affairs or infringe upon China’s legal sovereignty,” Jiang Yu, the country’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

Liu, an activist, writer and poet, is the fifth laureate in the 109-year history of the prize who could not come to the award ceremony for political reasons.

Ceremony boycott

Representatives of 17 nations invited to attend the ceremony were absent after China said that attending would be seen as a “sign of disrespect”.

Countries that turned down the invitation to Friday’s ceremony included China’s allies Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba; neighbours such as Russia and Kazakhstan; and business partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Other countries that chose not to attend include Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Vietnam and Morocco. 

Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow, said Russia “philosophically” shared the same concern that China has about the concept of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Soviet Union stopped Andrei Sakharov, a nuclear physicist turned human rights champion, from picking up his award in 1975, instead condemning he and his wife to exile.

“To a degree they think the whole thing is something of a Western confection, which allows Western countries to congratulate themselves over human rights, criticising other countries and ignoring their own faults,” Lee said.

“What’s added grist to Russia’s mill in recent days has been the arrest of [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, who the Russian government are now caustically suggesting should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Which is another way of them saying ‘how dare Western governments accuse us or the Chinese government of human rights violations when they’re doing this to Julian Assange’.”

Dissidents ‘harassed’

Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, has been under house arrest since October, and other family members are under pressure not to speak publicly.

The home of Liu Xiaobo’s wife was surrounded by police and security guards on Friday [Reuters]

There was heavy security in front of Liu Xia’s apartment complex in Beijing on Friday, with marked and unmarked police cars lining the road. Several officers stood guard, asking reporters for their names. 

Western news websites, including the BBC and CNN also appeared to have been blocked.

Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beijing, said there had been some coverage of the event in state media, but in the form of editorials

“They [the media] basically lambast the nobel committee and say that they have really embarrassed themselves on this day, that it has been a terrible decision and that history will be on China’s side,” she said.

However there was a show of support for Liu in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong where a crowd cheered as they watched the ceremony on a giant screen at a park.

According to Amnesty International, about 250 activists in China have been harassed in some way by authorities, had their freedom somehow curtailed, or were put under house arrest ahead of the ceremony.

Wan Yanhai, one of the very few Chinese activists who could attend Liu’s ceremony because he is in exile in the US, told Al Jazeera: “The Nobel Peace Prize highlights the human rights political situation in China. It helps with international attention and also helps with activist communities”.

“I describe the Nobel Peace Prize at this moment as exactly on time and is a kind of catalyst.”

A day before the award was set to be formally presented, Beijing reiterated that it would not yield to international pressure on China to free Liu, saying attempts to “deter China from its development” would not succeed.

Liu was jailed for 11 years in December 2009 on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a bold petition calling for reform in one-party Communist-ruled China.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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