Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity”.
The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”
Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.
China said the award went against the aims of Alfred Nobel and would hurt ties between China and Norway, which are currently negotiating a bilateral trade agreement.
“This is an obscenity against the peace prize,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.
But Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said China, the world’s second biggest economy, should expect to be under greater scrutiny as it becomes more powerful, just as the United States was after World War Two.
“We have to speak when others cannot speak,” Jagland told reporters. “As China is rising, we should have the right to criticise … We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic.”
Prize for all
Liu’s wife, Xia, said she had not expected her husband to win the prize: “I can hardly believe it because my life has been filled with too many bad things.
“This prize is not only for Xiaobo but for everyone working for human rights and justice in China,” she said in an emotional telephone interview with Hong Kong’s Cable television.
Rights groups said the prize came at a time when human rights have dropped down the agenda of Western governments focusing on China’s growing economic power.
Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, called it “a victory for all the courageous Chinese dissidents, activists, lawyers and human rights defenders who have continued to stand up to tyranny for all these years”.
Earlier this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying had warned the head of the Nobel Institute against granting the prize to Liu, saying it would damage ties between China and Norway as they negotiate a bilateral trade deal.
China strongly criticised Norway after the 1989 prize went to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The last dissident to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Iranian lawyer and human rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi in 2003.
Jailed for subversion
Liu was jailed for 11 years last December for subversion of state power, a year after being arrested as lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto by Chinese intellectuals and activists calling for democratic reform in the one-party state.
The former literature professor rose to prominence as a strike leader during protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
He was later jailed for 20 months and then spent three years in a “labour re-education” camp during the 1990s, as well as months under virtual house arrest.
China’s foreign ministry said last month that Liu’s actions were “diametrically opposed to the aims of the Nobel Prize”.
The Nobel Committee, whose members are selected by Norway’s parliament, said the human rights sought by Liu were consistent with the “fraternity between nations” clause in Alfred Nobel’s will, which sets out the guidelines on picking laureates.
The prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) and will be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10. It was not immediately known who would collect the prize if Liu could not do so.
Liu Xia said she planned to visit her husband in jail on Saturday. “I will give him a big hug.”
Nobel Peace Prize — Who is Liu Xiaobo?
Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, 54, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, an announcement that infuriated China’s rulers.
Here are some facts about Liu:
Liu as Dissent:
* Liu was prominent in the 1989 pro-democracy protests centred on Tiananmen Square that were crushed by armed troops, and was jailed for 20 months.
* In 1995, Liu orchestrated several daring petitions to parliament by groups of dissidents and intellectuals. He was held for more than seven months without formal charges.
* On Sept. 30, 1996, Liu and veteran pro-democracy activist Wang Xizhe issued a statement urging the communist authorities to honour a promise in 1945 to give people religious freedom, freedom of the press and speech, and the freedom to form political parties and hold demonstrations.
* They demanded that Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin be indicted for violating the constitution for saying the Chinese army was under the “absolute leadership” of the party instead of the state.
* Within weeks, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labour camp.
Most Recent Conviction:
* In December 2008, he helped to organise the “Charter 08” petition, which called for sweeping political reforms. It was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
* He was detained almost immediately and held for six months under house arrest.
* A group of prominent foreign academics, lawyers and writers including several Nobel laureates wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao asking for Liu’s release.
* In December 2009, Liu was jailed for 11 years for “inciting subversion of state power” for his role in the petition and for online essays critical of the Communist Party.
* The case and unusually harsh sentence drew protests from Western governments and rights activists at home and abroad.
* In May, Liu was moved to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning, his home province.
Liu Xiaobo was born on Dec. 28, 1955, in the city of Changchun in Jilin province.
After middle school, he was sent to the countryside to work in farms, then worked at a construction company in Changchun.
In 1977, he was admitted to study Chinese literature at Jilin University, and created a poetry group with six fellow students: The Innocent Hearts (Chi Zi Xin).
In 1982, he began postgraduate literature studies at Beijing Normal University, starting an academic career that would lead to a professor’s position at the university.
In 1987, his first book, “Criticism of the Choice: Dialogues with Li Zehou”, on philosophy and aesthetics, became a non-fiction bestseller. It challenged the ideas of professor Li Zehou, a rising ideological star with great influence on young intellectuals.
Liu worked as a visiting scholar at the universities of Oslo and Hawaii and at Columbia University in New York.
He returned to China as student protests broke out in Beijing in 1989. His third book, “The Fog of Metaphysics”, a comprehensive review of Western philosophies, was published the same year.
He served as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre from 2003 to 2007 and holds a seat on its board.