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China Slams Nobel Peace Prize For Dissident

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China Slams Nobel Peace Prize For Dissident

Asia

China Slams Nobel Peace Prize For Dissident

China Slams Nobel Peace Prize For Dissident

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Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was immediately condemned Friday after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. China also accused the Norwegian Nobel Committee of violating its own principles by honoring "a criminal."

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

China is calling today's Nobel Peace Prize a, quote, "obscenity." It was awarded to Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. He's currently in prison. The Nobel Committee cited his decades of nonviolent struggle for human rights.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from Beijing.

ROB GIFFORD: It's not clear whether 54-year-old Liu Xiaobo knows yet, in his prison cell 300 miles from Beijing, that he has won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. What is clear though is that China's political system is back in the spotlight.

In making the announcement in Oslo today, the head of the Nobel Committee was careful to praise China for its role in lifting millions of Chinese people out of poverty. But he said that with its newfound power also came responsibility, and he criticized China's curtailment of basic freedoms.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom of the University of California at Irvine says Liu Xiaobo himself is a complex figure.

Professor JEFF WASSERSTROM (History, University of California, Irvine): What radicalized him and got him involved in politics was the protests of 1989, which he was a supporter of but also a critic of the more extremist side of the student activists.

He's best thought of, I think, as a gadfly intellectual, who's continually calling attention to the flaws of the current system of government, but one who's tended to want to work within the system in a moderate and somewhat often conciliatory way.

GIFFORD: In the fragmented world of Chinese dissidents, Liu has sometimes been looked down upon as being too conciliatory. But he has not led an easy life. He was jailed after Tiananmen, and then detained repeatedly throughout the 1990s, when other dissidents had been silenced or had fled abroad.

Most recently we was detained in 2008 for helping to write a document called Charter 08, which called for the Chinese Communist Party to guarantee civil liberties, judicial independence and political reform. He was sentenced last year to 11 years in jail. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed the government's anger at the award.

Ms. JIANG YOU (Spokeswoman, Chinese Foreign Ministry): (Through translator) The man you mentioned was sentenced by China's judicial system because he broke Chinese law. His behavior goes against the aims of the Nobel Prize Committee.

GIFFORD: Beijing reacted with similar fury when the Tibetan leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. With Liu Xiaobo one of the favorites to win the prize this year, a senior Beijing official had actually warned the Norwegian government and the Nobel Committee that relations could be damaged if Liu were awarded the prize. But the Nobel Committee went ahead anyway.

This evening in China, Google searches for Liu's name were blocked and posts in Chinese language Internet chat rooms were removed by censors. But, Liu's fellow dissident Ai Weiwei praised the bravery of the Nobel Committee.

Mr. AI WEIWEI: (Through translator) This is an honor to an ordinary citizen, and also an honor to those who strive to make changes in China. It is also a humiliation to China's ruling party. Even after 60 years of being in power, they still refuse to provide citizens with the freedom to vote, freedom of association and freedom of speech.

GIFFORD: Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, was escorted from her Beijing apartment by police this evening, because she said they did not want her talking to the news media. On the streets of Beijing, few people had heard the news, and many when asked did not even know the name of Liu Xiaobo.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Beijing.

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Nobel Peace Win Could Boost Reformers In China

Chinese officials reacted angrily to the news that this year's Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the country's most prominent dissident, but analysts say the decision could provide an opportunity for Chinese leaders who favor human rights reform.

Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with Chinese words reading: "Nobel Peace Prize winner held in jail is China's shame" and "Release Liu Xiaobo and all dissidents," during a demonstration Friday in Hong Kong. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with Chinese words reading: "Nobel Peace Prize winner held in jail is China's shame" and "Release Liu Xiaobo and all dissidents," during a demonstration Friday in Hong Kong.

AP

China's official reaction has been to condemn the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee, saying it violated its own principles by awarding the prize to "a criminal" — dissident Liu Xiaobo.  The 54-year-old writer and human-rights activist is currently serving an 11-year prison term for "subversion."

President Obama issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release Liu, and he compared the cost of Liu's achievement to that of his own Nobel Peace Prize:

"Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I.  That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs."

Sophie Richardson, of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, said Liu's Nobel Prize is "a very public challenge" to China's human-rights record, and one that's likely to trigger a debate between government hardliners and those who favor a more moderate approach.

Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese scholar and human rights advocate who is currently serving an 11-year term in prison for "subversion."  He began his career as an activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and has been repeatedly arrested since then for demanding democratic reforms in China.

Before Tiananmen, he traveled outside China as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, the University of Oslo and the University of Hawaii.

This is his fourth prison term on political charges, ranging from "counter-revolutionary propaganda" to "disturbing public order."  The latest sentence is connected with his work in co-writing and promoting "Charter 08," a manifesto calling for protection of human rights, free speech and free elections in China.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu has been recognized with the 2004 Fondation de France prize as a defender of press freedom.

Richardson says the most immediate reaction is likely to be a wave of curiosity about Liu, as millions of ordinary Chinese try to find out more about him and why he was sentenced to prison.

She says it's also likely to lead to more publicity for "Charter 08," a document that Liu co-authored, which calls for greater political freedom in China and an end to the dominance of the Communist Party.

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Liu's peace prize could provide a greater opening for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who she says has been talking about political reform lately, including the right to monitor and criticize the government.

"Wen Jiabao has been echoing a lot of what Liu Xiaobo was talking about," she says.

Richardson says Liu's case reflects the ongoing debate between hardliners and relative moderates in the Chinese leadership. Liu's dissent had been somewhat tolerated, but his involvement with the "Charter 08" manifesto angered hardliners and led to his trial and imprisonment last year.

This Oct. 28, 2008, file photo shows Liu Xiaobo reading a letter beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian and political dissident who was arrested and jailed for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests in Beijing. Associated Press hide caption

toggle caption Associated Press

This Oct. 28, 2008, file photo shows Liu Xiaobo reading a letter beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian and political dissident who was arrested and jailed for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests in Beijing.

Associated Press

Chinese state media blacked out the news of Liu's Nobel Prize, and censors blocked reports about it from the Internet in China.

Chinese officials said the decision would harm its relations with Norway, whose parliament chooses the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

The officials refused to allow access to Liu in prison Friday, and it was not even clear whether he knew of the award.  He may not find out until his wife is able to meet him at the prison, which is about 300 miles from Beijing.

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, issued a statement welcoming the award and the attention it would bring to his case.

"As the [Nobel] Committee recognized, China's new status in the world comes with increased responsibility.  China should embrace this responsibility, have pride in his selection, and release him from prison," the statement said.

Protesters demonstrate in support of freeing Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, in Hong Kong on Friday. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption AFP/Getty Images

Protesters demonstrate in support of freeing Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, in Hong Kong on Friday.

AFP/Getty Images

Economy says it will likely take some time for the Chinese government to get over "the backlash of embarrassment" created by the award, and that signs of the debate among China's leadership are likely to emerge "not in the next few weeks, but in the next few months."

"You'd have to see the opening coming not just from [Premier] Wen, but from other Chinese leaders in the Politburo," Economy says.

Meanwhile, Richardson says the prize and the attention it has brought to China's human-rights issues will be a concern for the officials, such as Xi Jinping and Li Kejiang, who are expected to take over China's leadership in the next few years.

She says it's likely that they will consider freeing him when they come to power.

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