Beijing – Support among fellow writers and activists is growing for jailed dissident writer Liu Xiaobo to become the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Peace Prize, sources said on Thursday.

Liu was one of the main topics at this week’s conference of PEN International, the global writers’ group whose members include Liu and other Chinese dissidents, said Marian Botsford Fraser, the head of the group’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘We certainly discussed his case,’ Botsford Fraser told the German Press Agency dpa, adding that the group does not publicly back Nobel nominees.

‘We’re thrilled by the idea of the nomination,’ she said.

Individuals within the writers’ group have publicly supported Liu’s nomination, most notably Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of PEN American Center.

China sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison for subversion in December. He was the main organizer of the Charter ’08 for democratic reform, which was signed by 300 writers, lawyers and activists and was modeled on the Charter ’77 produced by Czech dissidents.

The charter set out ideals for building a democratic nation and lamented a lack of ‘freedom, equality and human rights’ under the ruling Communist Party.

‘Liu Xiaobo’s ideas and actions, in my view, are entirely congruous to the actions and ideas held by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi,’ Appiah wrote earlier this year in his letter of nomination.

‘All have endeavoured to use tactics of non-violence in effecting gradual change, of persuasion and compromise in upholding human rights and in making the transition toward a peaceful society,’ he said, comparing Liu with three winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tutu and the Dalai Lama have also backed Liu this year.

Liu, who was also nominated last year, is widely considered to be one of the favourites for the prize.

Last week, former Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel, who signed Charter ’77 as a dissident writer, published a letter of support for Liu in the New York Times.

‘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 said in the letter, which he co-wrote with Czech human rights advocate Dana Nemcova and the bishop of Prague, Vaclav Maly.

Liu’s wife, fellow writer Liu Xia, told dpa she was ‘very moved’ by the international support for Liu.

‘I didn’t imagine him winning the prize, so it’s more difficult to imagine how things might go after he gets it,’ said Liu Xia, who is allowed to visit her husband once a month at a prison in the north-eastern province of Liaoning.

As it does each time a Chinese dissident is nominated for the prize, the Chinese government has again tried to put pressure on the Nobel Institute not to choose Liu from the 237 nominees.

On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said giving the prize to Liu would send the ‘wrong message’ and insisted that he was jailed ‘because he violated Chinese law.’

But a group of more than 100 mainly China-based writers and activists has also dared to back Liu’s claim in an open letter published online, despite the risk of arrest by Chinese police.

If Liu wins, ‘it will directly push the development of democracy in China and serve as a warning to Chinese authorities,’ one of the signatories of the open letter, Yao Lifa, told dpa.

Yao is an activist specialising in electoral rights, based in the central province of Hubei.

‘The effect would be that more Chinese will wake up and focus on China’s democracy movement and the development of human rights,’ he said.

‘It will encourage Chinese people and solidify their confidence, and let them feel more hopeful,’ said Yao, who is also a Charter ’08 signatory.

Another signatory, Beijing-based philosophy professor Xu Youyu, said Liu and many other Charter ’08 activists had faced ‘persecution and oppression’ merely for asserting the ‘core values of civilized society’ embodied by the Nobel Peace Prize.

‘To bestow the Nobel Peace Prize upon Liu Xiaobo is one of the strongest responses which could be sent,’ Xu wrote in his own open letter.

‘This would, clearly and unambiguously, reaffirm the values held most dearly by humankind, serve as monumental support for the struggle for the freedom and democracy which China’s 1.3 billion people lack, and would mark a major step in defense of world peace,’ he said.