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Nobel Prize Committee Honors Jailed Chinese Dissident

The unclaimed Nobel document and medal were placed in an empty chair meant for Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

On Friday, the head of the Nobel Prize committee placed the 2010 Peace Prize on the empty seat of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jangland spoke at a ceremony in Norway. He said Liu Xiaobo should not be in prison.

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

Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year sentence in China linked to his campaign to end the country’s one-party political system. Neither he nor his wife was permitted to leave China to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his place, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read a statement written by the dissident. He said his prize belongs to the “lost souls” of China’s military suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. Liu Xiaobo was part of those demonstrations in the Tiananmen Square area of Beijing. He urged the student protesters to be peaceful.

The Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo for what it said was his long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China. He is a longtime activist writer who organized a document that called for freedom of expression and political reform in China. He disappeared into detention two years ago. Last year, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion.

Nobel chairman Thorbjoern Jangland praised China for its economic success, but said civil rights must be put in place.

Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland speaks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall
Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland speaks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall

THORBJOERN JANGLAND: “Every power system must be counter-balanced by popularly elected control, free media, and the right of individual citizens to criticize.”

Chinese officials say Liu Xiaobo broke the law. They say that awarding the peace prize to a criminal is an insult to China and interference in the country.

The Chinese government says the Nobel committee attacked its legal and political system by awarding the prize to the jailed dissident. China pressured international diplomats not to attend the ceremony in Oslo. About 20 countries did not send representatives to the ceremony Friday.

Reporters in China have noted a campaign to block outside information about Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel ceremony.

December tenth marked the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was also Human Rights Day. The day honors hundreds of thousands of human rights defenders around the world.

The United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, says human rights activists have changed history. The UN official says thousands of human rights defenders are harassed, abused, unjustly detained and even killed every year. She says Liu Xiaobo is one example. She criticized the restrictions China has placed on his wife, Liu Xia, and other activists.

NAVI PILLAY: “In recent weeks, my office has received reports of at least twenty activists being arrested or detained and more than 120 other cases of house arrest, travel restrictions, forced relocations and other acts of intimidation. These include Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest – a house arrest, which in my view is in contravention of Chinese national law.”

Navi Pillay says she will continue to hold discussions with Chinese officials about these cases. And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.