The Nobel Committee sees the continued imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo as a sign of weakness, despite all of China's strength. Meanwhile, Chinese pressure seems to have galvanized Western democracies.
Liu Xiaobo's chair remained empty in Oslo
It will forever remain the symbol of this year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. As dignitaries from around the world stood and applauded, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland placed the blue clad Nobel diploma on the empty chair, where Liu Xiaobo would have sat.
Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic and democracy advocate, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion, handed down last year after he co-authored a bold appeal for human rights and political reform.
A sign of China's weakness
In his speech at the ceremony, Jagland noted Liu's imprisonment and regretted that he was not present to receive the award. "This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate," Jagland said. He added that despite all of China's economic strength, its weakness was manifested "in the need to imprison a man for 11 years merely for expressing his opinions on how his country should be governed."
A flower is placed near a picture of Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong on Friday
Liu Xiaobo had told his wife that he would like this year’s Peace Prize to be dedicated to "the lost souls from June 4". He was referring to the many activists who died during the firing by government troops on the Tiananmen square in Beijing.
The Nobel Committee has accepted his wish.
Jagland also said that, although none of the Committee’s members had ever met Liu, "we feel that we know him. We have studied him closely over a long period of time".
Chinese pressure backfires
While China had successfully pressured more than a dozen countries not to attend the ceremony to honor Liu Xiaobo, it seemed in Oslo that its efforts also backfired in a way. After all, it was the Chinese government's pressure which transformed Liu into a cause celebre among global rights activists.
Chinese citizens clash with troops near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989
Moreover, the pressure felt in Oslo even hours before the ceremony, seemed to be galvanizing the West, reminding citizens of democracies of the values the Nobel peace prize stands for.
China's pressure tactics had continued unabated on Friday. Amnesty International's Oslo representatives said that members of Norway's Chinese community were being pressured by Chinese diplomats to join anti-Nobel protests planned for Saturday.
The Nobel Committee chairman emphasized that the Committee’s intention had been to make a statement about the relationship between human rights, democracy and peace. The rights democracies around the world enjoyed today were fought for and won by people who took great risks. "They did so for others. That is why Liu Xiaobo deserves our support," Jagland said.
Author: Adrienne Woltersdorf (Oslo)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein