Friday, October 8, 2010

China's Nobel anger as Liu Xiaobo awarded peace prize

Pro-democracy protesters raise pictures of Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong, 8 October. The award sparked calls for Mr Liu's release in the West as well as in Hong Kong

China's Nobel anger as Liu Xiaobo awarded peace prize

China has angrily condemned the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest. It called Mr Liu a "criminal", saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.

The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was "the foremost symbol" of the struggle for human rights in China.

US President Barack Obama called for Mr Liu's immediate release.

"We call on the Chinese government to release Mr Liu as soon as possible," Mr Obama, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, said in a statement.

"Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.

"But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected," Mr Obama said.

Other Western countries have also urged China to release Mr Liu.


Mr Liu, 54, was a key leader in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Last year he received an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion" after drafting Charter 08 - which called for multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China.

Announcing its 2010 peace prize in Oslo, the Nobel Foundation said: "Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights."

It praised Mr Liu for his "long and non-violent struggle" and highlighted its belief in a "close connection between human rights and peace".

The citation described him as "the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China".

Beijing quickly condemned the award, saying it could damage China-Norway relations.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: "Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. It's a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the peace prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to such a person."

Later Norway said its ambassador in Beijing had been summoned to the Chinese foreign ministry.

"They wanted to officially share their... disagreement and their protest," a Norwegian spokeswoman said.

"We emphasised that this is an independent committee and the need to continue good bilateral relations," she added.

'Growing consensus'

Unlike other Nobel prizes, which are administered in Sweden, the peace prize is awarded in Oslo by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissidents

  • 2003 Iranian lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi
  • 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese pro-democracy campaigner and opposition leader
  • 1983 Lech Walesa, head of Poland's Solidarity trade union movement that spearheaded the east European anti-communist movement
  • 1980 Adolfo Esquivel, Argentine human rights activist imprisoned during the country's "dirty war"
  • 1975 Andrei Sakharov, Russian top nuclear physicist, human rights campaigner
  • 1960 Albert Lutuli, South African anti-apartheid campaigner
  • 1935 Carl von Ossietzky, German journalist imprisoned by the Nazis in 1933

The prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5m; £944,000) and will be awarded in Oslo on 10 December.

In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the award to Mr Liu was "a recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world".

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said China should free him so he could attend the ceremony.

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also welcomed the award and also called on China to release Mr Liu.

UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay said the prize recognised a "very prominent human rights defender".

Mr Liu's wife, Liu Xia, said she was "so excited" by the award.

She told AFP news agency: "I want to thank everyone for supporting Liu Xiaobo. I strongly ask that the Chinese government release Liu."

Mrs Liu said police had informed her they would take her to Mr Liu's prison in the north-eastern province of Liaoning on Saturday so she could give him the news.


How small acts can change the world

People demand the release of Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese foreign ministry building in Hong Kong (8 October 2010) Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for eleven years in December on subversion charges

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, is a reminder of the damage autocracies do to themselves when they clamp down on freedom of speech and thought.

At a single day's trial last December, Mr Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison after having helped to draft Charter 08, a manifesto for political change in China.

His Nobel prize comes at the precise moment when people right at the top of the Chinese system such as the Premier, Wen Jiabao, are joining the debate about the need for greater political liberalisation.

The act of official irritability which took away Mr Liu's freedom is becoming more and more of an international embarrassment to China.

Now, in every country in the world, his name and cause will be known; and more people in dictatorships everywhere will be emboldened to imitate his small act of resistance.

'Losing game'

That last phrase comes from a book which by chance is published today - Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World.

It is written by Steve Crawshaw, international advocacy director of Amnesty International, and John Jackson, a long-term campaigner for human rights and other major international issues.

Suitably enough, the foreword is provided by Vaclav Havel, who helped to draft Charter 77 in the days when the hand of the Soviet Union was heavy on the former Czechoslovakia.

Only 12 years later, after serving many of them in prison, Mr Havel led the entirely peaceful revolution which brought down Marxism-Leninism in the country, and became the freely-elected president.

Mr Crawshaw and Mr Jackson detail example after example of the way in which governments which deny people their freedom have been brought down by people who are determined to speak and act as though they are free.

"I'm full of humour and irony, and you're beating me, arresting me," declared Srdja Popovic, a Belgrade student involved in the Otpor (Resistance) movement against the late Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. "That's a game you always lose."

He was right. Milosevic was soon chased out of power and put on trial for his crimes.

Symbol of resistance

Even in countries where it is still dangerous to speak out, people find ways of doing so.

People of Iranian descent hold images of Neda Agha-Soltan at a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Zurich, Switzerland (24 June 2009) Images of Neda Agha-Soltan's dying moments shown around the world

In Tehran in June 2009, a 26-year-old woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, was shot dead in the street as she took part in a protest against the strongly disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Her dying moments were captured on video and shown around the world.

Her mother had tried to talk her into staying at home, but Agha-Soltan answered: "If I don't go out, who will?"

She has become a continuing symbol of resistance in a country where the government is clearly unable to win the wholehearted support of its people.

But not all small acts of resistance are directed at brutal autocracies.

Small acts

Even in countries where the rule of law is strong, governments sometimes behave in ways that are questionable.

Katherine Gun (file) Just before the start of Ms Gun's trial the prosecution's case collapsed

Mr Crawshaw and Mr Jackson quote the case of Katharine Gun, a young translator of Chinese at the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), where phone calls and messages around the world are monitored.

Although she had been assured by her bosses that she would never be asked to do anything illegal, a senior figure at the US National Security Agency (NSA), which works very closely with GCHQ, asked her early in 2003 to spy on governments like France, Chile and Mexico, which disapproved of the coming invasion of Iraq.

Ms Gun told a friend, who told a British newspaper.

She was arrested, but just before the start of her trial the prosecution case collapsed. She never got her job back, though.

An American naval officer, Lt Cdr Matthew Diaz, was so shocked by the way the US authorities had refused to publish the names of those suspects detained at Guantanamo - thus preventing them from getting independent legal advice - that he copied out hundreds of names and smuggled them to a human rights organisation in New York.

Start Quote

Our protest will be recorded in the history books, for all generations to see”

End Quote Yigal Bronner

He was sentenced to six months in jail.

"There was nothing else that I could really do," he said afterwards.

That is how people like Vaclav Havel, Srdja Popovic, Katharine Gun and Matthew Diaz feel. Probably it is how Liu Xiaobo, the new Nobel laureate, feels.

As Yigal Bronner wrote, after refusing to serve with the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories: "Our protest will be recorded in the history books, for all generations to see."

In a free society, the weight of public opinion matters in such cases. In societies which are not free, people have to fight harder and risk more.

But the world is full of countries which were once dictatorships and are now free and properly democratic, from Argentina to South Africa.

And almost always it is small acts of resistance which have brought about the change.

Courtesy : rEAD More on BBC
Source BBC

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