Protests But No Prize-Winner At Nobel Ceremony
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize is taking place in Norway. One person who is not there is the winner himself. He's the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who's in jail in China. Beijing has continued its furious campaign against the award until the very last minute. It's made sure Liu's supporters can't attend the ceremony by placing them under house arrest or imposing travel restrictions.
NPR's Philip Reeves is in Norway's capital, Oslo.
And, Phil, how different is this year's ceremony, considering that the laureate himself is not there?
PHILIP REEVES: Well, it really is immersed in politics. You know, a prize about peace has triggered a war of words that show no sign of abating. Liu's serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after authoring a charter calling for democratic reform. His wife's under house arrest. We've been hearing of more crackdowns by the Chinese authorities.
There have been Nobel Peace Prize winners in the past who've been unable to come to the ceremony to collect their prize in person. But in these cases, they've sent along relatives to pick up the prize. This is the first time since 1935 that there'll be no one here to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Liu is going to be represented by an empty chair.
MONTAGNE: And there will be other empty chairs there, because China has persuaded some countries to stay away from the ceremony.
REEVES: That's right, about 18 in all. They've said that they're staying away, citing various excuses. These include Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq. As you know, Beijing sees this whole thing as a campaign against China, an attempt by the West to impose its values on it. And it has been using its geopolitical muscle to convey their displeasure to these countries.
However, lots of people are coming, about 1,000 guests in all. I've been talking to a few of them and found out that they're not all diplomats and dignitaries.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
REEVES: It's not been easy for the Chinese who support Liu to make it to Oslo. The authorities in Beijing wouldn't let them out of China. But the Chinese government couldn't stop Chin Jin, a dissident who lives in Australia.
Mr. CHIN JIN: I came all the way from most remote place to Oslo to witness this great moment. And I wish this event could trigger a domino effect to the political change in China.
REEVES: Chin Jin says he's not a wealthy man. It was a struggle to afford the air ticket to travel to today's ceremony. But he was determined to witness it.
Mr. JIN: This event is so important to our movement to make Chinese democracy movement bigger and bigger.
REEVES: David Wu, a Democratic Congressman from Oregon, has also travelled a long way. Wu says Beijing has many things to be proud of, but Liu's empty chair today is a powerful symbol of its failings.
Representative DAVID WU (Democrat, Oregon): Devastating, absolutely devastating. The Beijing government just doesn't understand how important this is. It is a singular announcement to the world of the failure of this government, of the failure of its imagination.
Unidentified Man: This is the police. (unintelligible) have to move further down, further down.
REEVES: In a snowy lane outside the Chinese embassy in Oslo, a small crowd of protestors is surrounded by a large crowd of journalists. It's 13 degrees below, but the protestors don't seem bothered by the cold.
Unidentified Woman #1: Free (unintelligible) right now.
Unidentified Woman #2: Free Liu Xiaobo now.
REEVES: They ask to hand in a petition which they say carries 100,000 signatures demanding Liu's release from prison. The embassy doesn't want to receive it. China's rapidly growing in economic power and geopolitical muscle. It's hard to believe that protests like this make much difference. Yet John Peder Egenaes from Amnesty International, the human rights group that's organized the demonstration, says they do.
Mr. JOHN PEDER EGENAES (Amnesty International): No, I don't think it's going to change things overnight. But I think if we stop doing this, if we stop protesting, things certainly won't change.
MONTAGNE: OK. And Philip Reeves is there in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Are there going to be more protests, Phil?
REEVES: Yes, a candlelit vigil is planned later today, calling for Liu's release. And also, we're told that there's going to be a pro-China demonstration outside the Norwegian parliament.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Phil Reeves, who's speaking to us from Oslo, where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is taking place.
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