Why Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize Could Harm Chinese Rights Activists

Article excerpt

The Chinese government said the award to Liu Xiaobo 'profanes the Nobel Peace Prize.' The immediate future may see more activists arrested, warns Mr. Liu's lawyer.

Infuriating the Chinese government, the Nobel Committee today awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.

The committee said it had picked Mr. Liu, the first Chinese recipient, for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." He was sentenced to an unusually harsh 11- year jail term last Christmas Day for having authored a petition demanding broad political reform in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the award "profanes the Nobel Peace Prize" in a statement carried on the ministry's website. Liu "was sentenced to jail...for violation of Chinese law and I think his acts are in complete contravention to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize," Mr. Ma said.

Liu Xiaobo awarded Nobel Peace Prize. Take the Nobel Peace prize quiz

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, told the Monitor that she hopes the award "will be an opportunity to help China become a mainstream civilized society." She hoped too, she adds, that it would lead to the early release of her husband, to whom police were taking her Friday evening for a prison visit.

Chinese websites carried no news of the award other than a brief report from the state-run Xinhua news agency quoting Mr. Ma's statement. References to Liu's award were being deleted from Internet chatrooms, and mobile phone operators blocked all text messages containing the three Chinese characters forming Liu's name.

Chinese activists emboldened

Human rights activists in Beijing heard and welcomed the news, however. "I am so very glad because we are not alone any more," says Cui Weiping, a democracy advocate who teaches at the China Film Academy. "Our actions are approved and supported by the whole world."

"In the long run...this will encourage Chinese human rights activists to strive for democracy and freedom," agrees Teng Biao, Liu's lawyer.

In the immediate future, however, he fears that "the government's control over human rights issues will be even stronger. More activists may be arrested."

Rebuke to Chinese authorities

The Nobel Committee made it plain that it intended the award as a rebuke to the Chinese authorities, which it accused of breaching the Chinese Constitution's own safeguards of human rights such as the freedoms of speech, assembly, and of the press.

"In practice these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens," the committee's statement said. …