At Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, recipient Liu Xiaobo represented only by his words

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese dissident, was honored in absentia today in Oslo, the first time in 75 years that no one was present to represent the laureate.

John McConnico/AP
Nobel Commitee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair with the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma during a ceremony honoring Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo at city hall in Oslo, Norway, Friday, Dec. 10.

Scores of supporters for Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, shouted calls for democracy in China as guests arrived for this year’s controversial award ceremony in Oslo City Hall.

The demonstrators stood behind police barricades while about 20 pro-China protestors – 100 were anticipated – gathered a few blocks away with three giant white banners in Norwegian and Chinese and small yellow handwritten signs stating “Law Breaker = Peace Prize Laureate?!” and “Peace Prize = Political Tool.”

The decision to award the prize this year to an imprisoned Chinese dissident has aroused strong reaction in China and prompted the protest led today by the Norway-China Association.

Beijing is angry at the Norwegian Nobel Committee for awarding the prize to a “criminal,” who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” after co-authoring the political manifest Charter 08.

Yaming Yuen, leader of the Norway-China Association, said he disagreed with statements made by Thorbjørn Jagland, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, during a press conference yesterday that the decision to give the prize to Liu was not a prize against China.

“He has totally misunderstood everything,” says Mr. Yaming. “He has to travel to China to understand.”

In his opening ceremony speech for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Jagland praised China for the country’s recent achievements, while warning efforts to quash freedom of expression could lead to corruption.

He commended China in particular for its rapid economic growth, its success in lifting several hundred million people in China out of poverty, and its ratification of United Nations and International Labor Organization’s major international conventions on human rights.

However, Jagland said China’s growing economic status bore with it the responsibility for accepting criticism. Even though authoritarian states could have long periods with fast economic growth, it was no coincidence that nearly all of the richest countries in the world were democratic, he said.

“Historical experience has given us reason to believe that continuing rapid economic growth presupposes opportunities for free research, thinking, and debate,” said Jagland. “Without freedom of expression, corruption, the abuse of power, and misrule will develop.”

Jagland made his speech aside an empty chair that was placed on the stage of Oslo City Hall to symbolize Mr. Liu’s absence – the first time in 75 years that no one came to represent the laureate. Liu ‘s wife was prevented from attending because she has been under house arrest in China as part of a widespread crackdown on Liu’s supporters.

In Liu’s stead, Liv Ullmann, one of Norway’s most famous actresses, read a text from Liu’s final statement on Dec. 23, 2009, entitled “I Have No Enemies.” The essay expresses Liu’s compassion for his adversaries and his hopes that he will be the last one in China to be incriminated because of speech.

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth,” Ullmann read. “To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”

The laureate’s absence will also be specially marked this evening during the traditional torchlight parade to the Grand Hotel, where the Nobel Banquet will take place. Since the laureate is unable to wave from the hotel balcony this year to the crowd-filled square, Amnesty International has arranged for an image of Liu to be projected onto the façade of the five-story building.

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