Chinese dissident tipped for Nobel Peace Prize
BEIJING—China might well be poised to have its first-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner this week—if bookies are to be believed—an outcome that would make history, give a huge boost to democracy advocates inside China, and enrage Beijing’s authoritarian government.
No Chinese citizen has ever won the prize. But as of Monday, China’s most famous dissident, jailed 54-year-old writer Liu Xiaobo is the front-runner.
A Dublin-based online betting service announced Liu as the favorite at 3-1 odds.
Still, the writer’s wife, the poet and photographer Liu Xia, wasn’t so sure Monday.
“I really don’t believe he’ll win,” the slight, soft-spoken woman said, chain smoking her way through an hour-long interview.
“There have been so many bad things that have occurred in our lives,” she told the Star, “I’ve given up hope that good things might happen.”
Last Dec. 25 her husband was sentenced to 11 years behind bars, after being found guilty of trying to incite others to subvert state power.
Liu was the lead author of a document called Charter ’08, calling for multi-party elections in China, where the Communist Party keeps a lock grip on power.
The severe 11-year sentence shocked many China watchers.
But recently, Liu Xia revealed, she has taken some strength from words by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
Writing to friends in Hong Kong last month to thank them for supporting her husband, Liu Xia cited words from a speech that Atwood delivered in April on receiving an award from PEN America, an organization that works to defend free expression.
“Atwood spoke of how silence and secrecy allow the worst horrors to breed,” she said, “and how sooner or later the hidden stories in a society have to come out.
“Atwood then went on to say, ‘The messengers in such cases are seldom welcome—yet they are necessary and must be protected.’”
“Of course,” said Liu Xia, “my husband is one of those messengers.”
And yet his winning a Nobel Peace Prize is one message the Chinese government doesn’t want to hear.
In fact, last summer the Chinese government sent an envoy to Norway to directly threaten the Nobel Committee if it dared to give the award to a Chinese dissident.
Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestad told the Norwegian news agency NTB last week that this warning was delivered to him personally by Chinese deputy foreign minister Fu Ying.
Lundestad said Minister Fu told him that awarding the peace prize to a Chinese dissident “would pull the wrong strings in relations between Norway and China—it would be seen as an unfriendly act.”
China is Norway’s third largest export market.
While widely known outside of China for his decades-long struggle for democratic reform in China, Liu is barely known outside of the small but strong band of lawyers, professors, intellectuals and common people who continue to call for greater freedom in China.
So tight is the government’s grip on information in China that he is never mentioned in Chinese media.
Last week when a foreign reporter posed a question about Liu at a Foreign Ministry press briefing, ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu did not even repeat his name.
“This person was sentenced to jail because he violated Chinese law,” she said.
Liu’s candidacy for the Nobel appeared to gather strength last month when former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, together with others, published an essay in The New York Times urging the committee to present the award to Liu.
“We ask the Nobel Committee to honour Liu Xiaobo’s more than two decades of unflinching and peaceful advocacy for reform and to make him the first Chinese recipient of that prestigious award,” Havel and others wrote.
Havel drew attention to the similarities between his group of dissidents, which led the so-called “Velvet Revolution” against Communist repression with a document called Charter 77, and the efforts of Liu Xiaobo and his supporters in China.
Both groups’ documents were clarion calls for an end to state repression; both groups began with just a few hundred supporters; both faced surveillance, harassment and jail terms.
Liu, if he serves his full term, won’t be free until June 2020.
Liu served two previous stints in detention dating back to his activities in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.