No word from China's Nobel winner

2010-10-09 19:07
Jinzhou - The world's newest Nobel Peace Prize winner remained unreachable in a Chinese prison Saturday, while his wife's mobile phone was cut off and the authoritarian government continued to censor reports about democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo's honor.

Police kept reporters away from the prison where Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, and his lawyer said that Liu's wife - who had been hoping to visit him Saturday and tell him the news of the award - has "disappeared" and he is worried she may be in police custody.

Chinese authorities, who called Liu a criminal shortly after his award on Friday and said his winning "desecrates the prize", sank on Saturday into official silence.

Only an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper spoke out on Saturday, saying in English, "Obviously, the Nobel Peace Prize this year is meant to irritate China, but it will not succeed. On the contrary, the committee disgraced itself."

The paper's Chinese-language edition called the award "an arrogant showcase of Western ideology" and said it disrespected the Chinese people.

But one Chinese newspaper cartoonist, Kuang Biao, posted an image on his blog on Friday of a Nobel Prize medal behind bars.

In naming Liu, the Norwegian-based Nobel committee honored his more than two decades of advocacy for human rights and peaceful democratic change _ from the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 to a manifesto for political reform that he co-authored in 2008 and which led to his latest jail term.

President Barack Obama, last year's peace prize winner, called for Liu's immediate release.

Freedom of movement


But there was still no word from the winner himself. The mobile phone of his wife, Liu Xia, was turned off on Saturday as she was expected to be en route with police to the prison to meet her husband.

"She's disappeared. We're all worried about them," Liu's lawyer, Shang Baojun, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

He said even Liu Xia's mother had been unable to reach her.

Liu's wife's freedom of movement had been shrinking since the eve of the Nobel announcement when, she said, police came to her apartment to try to get her out of Beijing, offering her a prison visit with Liu. She wanted to stay for the announcement and planned to hold an impromptu news conference with reporters. But police would not let her leave the apartment and on Friday night, she said she was negotiating terms to visit Liu on Saturday and tell him the news.

Police often force political critics, religious dissenters and sometimes their family members to leave Beijing ahead of sensitive anniversaries, often putting them up in guesthouses and keeping them out of the way for days and weeks.

Beth Schwanke with the Washington-based Freedom Now, an organisation that serves as Liu's international counsel, said, "We're very concerned that the government might use this as a pretext for detaining her".

Liu's wife has said she hopes to go to Norway to collect the Nobel medal and its prize money of about $1.5m, if he cannot.

Special order

Two years into an 11-year jail term at the prison 500 km from Beijing, the slight, 54-year-old literary critic was not expected to find out about the award until the meeting with his wife.

Shang said it was not likely that winning the prize would have any big effect on Liu's prison sentence. "Unless (President) Hu Jintao signs some sort of special order ... but there's no precedent for that", the lawyer said. In past years, China would release certain dissidents after international pressure, but not because they won major awards.

Liu is the first peace prize winner chosen while serving a criminal prison sentence, although several laureates, including Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky (1935) were in custody without a legal trial. Still others, like Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov (1975) and Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (1983), were prevented by their governments from going to Norway to accept the prize.

The government arrested Liu in December 2008, hours before he released a document named Charter 08 that called for greater freedoms and for the Communist Party to give way to gradual, democratic change.

In announcing the peace prize on Friday, the Nobel committee issued a challenge to China to live up to its responsibilities as the world's second-largest economy and a burgeoning diplomatic and military power.

Liu had been virtually unknown among ordinary Chinese. University students in Beijing were wrestling on Friday night with a mix of pride and suspicion over the award. Students on the online bulletin board of China's top university were asking angrily how someone in prison could win the peace prize, said Peking University student Yang Yuan.

"But then I thought about it - wasn't Mandela in prison?" Yang said. "So I just don't know about this."

South Africa's Nelson Mandela was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three years after his release from prison. He shared the prize with then-South African leader FW de Klerk for their efforts to bring racial reconciliation.

- AP
Read more on:    liu xiaobo  |  china  |  nobel peace prize
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