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Nobel hopes for China
Friday, 08 June 2012 16:39

Now that Aung San Suu Kyi has just been able to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize lecture, more than 20 years after she was awarded the prize, we can only hope that Liu Xiaobo does not have to wait so long.  He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.

There is in fact a long list government leaders, starting with Hitler, being upset by the Nobel Peace Prize.

Indeed, there was a great deal of trouble in 1935, when the Nobel Committee gave the award to Carl von Ossietzky. Hitler was furious, and prohibited all Germans from accepting any Nobel Prize. King Haakon did not attend the ceremony. Ossietzky did not come to Oslo, and died a little over a year later.

There was considerable outrage in Moscow when Andrej Sakharov received his Prize in 1975.  He, too, was prevented from receiving the award in person, so he sent his wife. The same thing happened to Lech Walesa in 1983. The Burmese authorities were also furious when Aung San Suu Kyi received the Peace Prize in 1991. Once again, the Laureate could not come to Oslo.  Her son made a speech on her behalf, and it was not until 16 June 2012 that she was able to deliver her lecture.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize. She came. Much could be said of the reaction of the Iranian authorities, but the Iranian Ambassador did in fact attend the ceremony.  The Norwegian Nobel Committee has given four Prizes to South Africa.  All the Laureates came to Oslo, but the awards to Albert Lutuli in 1960 and to Desmond Tutu in 1984 provoked great outrage in the apartheid regime in South Africa, before the applause broke out thanks to the awards to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in 1993.

So Liu Xiaobo, the first Chinese citizen to receive a Nobel Prize, is in distinguished company.  He is in fact the third Nobel Peace Laureate to be actually under arrest at the time of the award, the others being Carl von Ossietzky and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Like the others, Liu Xiaobo is under arrest for basically being in disagreement with his government, the Chinese Communist Party.  In the face of the 1989 army crackdown at Tiananmen Square, he was instrumental in maintaining the non-violent nature of the protest.  Liu Xiaobo spent two years in prison for his role in the protests, and was then subject to a further 3 years of 're-education through labour' in the late 1990s for advocating an end to one party rule in China.

His current imprisonment, for "inciting subversion of state power", was imposed for statements in recently-published essays and the 2008 document he helped write, Charter 08. Modelled on Charter 77, a petition demanding the recognition of human rights in Czechoslovakia and drawn up by writers and intellectuals in 1977, Charter 08 is a declaration calling for political reforms and increased human rights in China. The declaration reiterates certain 'universal values' such as freedom, equality, democracy and constitutional rule and makes recommendations for, among other things, a new constitution, an independent judiciary, the election of public officials and a guarantee of human rights.

Charter 08 has now collected several thousand signatures from Chinese citizens from all walks of life. Liu Xiaobo was arrested just before its official release and sentenced a year later, just over a month before the close of nominations for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, at a trial to which Chinese and foreign observers were denied access. Liu Xiaobo has continued to write from prison, releasing a statement through one of his lawyers, 10 days after sentencing, which read: "I have made sacrifices with no regrets. For an intellectual thirsty for freedom in a dictatorial country, prison is the very first threshold. Now I have stepped over the threshold, and freedom is near."

If history is any guide, repression of basic human rights and imprisoning a man for eleven years for merely for expressing his opinions on how his country should be governed, is a sign of great political weakness.  Like most of the others, the Chinese Communist Government is likely to find itself on the wrong side of history.


Nobel Peace Prize 2010


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