Nobel peace ceremony goes ahead, with empty chair
Published Friday, December 10, 2010 6:30PM EST
Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's absence was marked with an empty chair at the ceremony to award his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on Friday.
This marks only the second time in its more than 100-year history that neither the recipient nor any representative was able to collect the prestigious prize.
The last time was 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky -- who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp -- from claiming the award.
Three others -- cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa, as well as Burma democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi -- had their prizes accepted by family members.
Because Liu could not attend, his gold medal, Nobel diploma and cash prize were not handed out. Instead, Norwegian Nobel Committee officials say they hope to give them to the jailed laureate at a later date.
With the diploma and medal placed in an empty chair, Liu was given a standing ovation in absentia.
In his comments at Oslo's City Hall, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said the decision should not be seen as "a prize against China," as he urged officials in Beijing to "become used to being debated and criticized."
"He has not done anything wrong. He must be released," Jagland said.
Convicted on subversion charges, Liu was sentenced last Christmas Day to spend 11 years in prison. This is his fourth term of incarceration since 1989.
During the ceremony, Norwegian actress Liv Ullman read Liu's "I Have No Enemies" statement, which he had read aloud in a Chinese court back in 2009.
But China has described the awarding of a Nobel prize to the 54-year-old longtime-critic of the state as an attack on its legal and political system.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu even described Liu's supporters as "clowns" this week, as she accused the Nobel committee of "orchestrating an anti-China farce".
In an apparent effort to ensure none of Liu's supporters were able to leave China for the ceremony in Oslo, Beijing has clamped down on Liu's supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, in recent weeks.
"This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate," Jagland said.
Liu Xia has been under house arrest since Oct. 8, rendering her unable to leave, receive visitors or communicate with the outside world. And in the hours before the Nobel ceremony Friday, uniformed and plainclothes officers demonstrated a heavy presence in the neighbourhood surrounding her central Beijing residence.
One of the 140 Chinese activists invited by Liu Xia to attend the Nobel ceremony was nevertheless able to travel to Norway for the ceremony.
Talking to The Associated Press, AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, who fled China for the U.S. in May, acknowledged Liu's life's work.
"I believe many people will cry, because everything he has done did not do any harm to the country and the people in the world. He just fulfilled his responsibility," Wan told the AP. "But he suffered a lot of pain for his speeches, journals and advocacy of rights."
In the lead-up to the prize ceremony, Chinese officials mounted a diplomatic campaign that resulted in several countries joining their boycott of the event. Other absentees included Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam and the Palestinian Authority.
Beijing has also suspended trade talks with Norway.
The AP reports that the broadcast signals of both CNN and BBC TV went black in Beijing at the same moment the ceremony was underway in Oslo.
Later, a torchlight parade wound its way through Oslo's snowy streets. The route ends at the Grand Hotel, where the prize winner would normally spend the night.
Liu, a writer and former university professor, was at the forefront of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He was also the lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic reform of China's one-party state.
In a statement Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his regret that Liu has been denied the honour he enjoyed as last year's Peace Prize winner.
"Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was," Obama said, praising the jailed dissident's peaceful struggle and "universal" values.
Amnesty International's Alex Neve said that the prize is a significant show of solidarity for the international community, which has previously dealt with China's human rights record in a piecemeal fashion.
Unfortunately, it appears that China is cracking down on dissidents inside its borders in the aftermath of the prize.
"There clearly is a chill as a result of this," he said. "But in the longer term, this has unlocked something."
But ultimately, the movement to bring democracy to China depends on dissidents who are willing to speak up, said Maggie Wenzhuo Hou, from the Democratic Party of China.
She told CTV's Power Play that China "deserves" human rights protection, and that eventually, the pen will prevail over the sword.