PEN President Appiah Nominates Liu Xiaobo for Nobel Peace Prize
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York City, February 1, 2010—PEN American Center President and Professor of Philosophy Kwame Anthony Appiah on Friday sent his nomination of Chinese colleague Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, noting Liu’s “distinguished and principled leadership in the area of human and political rights and freedom of expression.”
Appiah joins a growing list of nominators who have put forward Liu Xiaobo’s name since Liu was tried and convicted on December 25, 2009 of “inciting subversion of state power” for 224 Chinese characters in six articles he had written between 2005 and 2007 and for his participation in the groundbreaking Charter 08 manifesto and petition. Liu, who has been a leading figure in the struggle for greater human rights and democracy in China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for his writings. Vaclav Havel, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama are among those who have asked the Nobel committee to consider Liu for the Peace Prize this year.
No citizen of China has ever won the Nobel Peace Prize, and in recent years the Chinese government has lobbied hard against the nominations of Liu Xiaobo and other leading dissidents, saying that their selection would constitute an unacceptable interference in China’s internal affairs. Appiah, in his nomination, challenged that position.
“The treatment that [Liu Xiaobo] has endured is by definition an international matter, just as all violations of human rights are matters of legitimate concern to all nations,” he wrote. “Honoring [Liu Xiaobo] with the Nobel Peace Prize would be a powerful way to underscore the fact that the rights that are enshrined in international human rights law—values that China has acknowledged and endorsed—are the non-negotiable entitlements of every man and woman.”
This is a message that the Chinese government needs to hear, more urgently than ever. If China can jail Liu Xiaobo without repercussions, it isn’t just dissident voices inside China that are vulnerable. A feature of China’s ascendancy on the world stage has been its implicit agreement with rights-abusing regimes in other nations that it will turn a blind eye to even the most blatant human rights violations in exchange for preferred commercial relations…To fail to challenge the Chinese government on Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment is to concede this argument internationally, at enormous peril to peaceful advocates of progress and change not just in China but all around the world.
Appiah’s nomination made special note of Liu Xiaobo’s work with the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), whose 250 members are doing courageous advocacy work for freedom of expression in China despite constant pressure from Chinese authorities. Liu served as president of ICPC for four years and was an outspoken advocate for literature and freedom of expression during his tenure. He is one of five ICPC members currently in prison, and the current Secretary General of the center, Zhao Shiying, was detained last month for two weeks for criticizing Liu Xiaobo’s trial and sentence.
Twenty of PEN American Center’s most prominent members, including Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, Ha Jin, Adrienne Rich, and Don DeLillo signed a letter in support of the nomination.
In his nomination letter, Appiah likened Liu’s story to that of previous Nobel laureates like Andrei Sakharov, Shirin Ebadi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all brave men and women “who have stood up to systematic repression in their own countries and practiced principled, non-violent resistance to bad laws and policies.”
In fact, the year before my countryman Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he wrote in his seminal letter from a Birmingham jail, ‘An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.’ Ten days after Liu Xiaobo was sentenced, he was able to release a statement through his lawyers. In it, he echoed Dr. King when he declared, ‘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.’
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center, which works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled, has been working to end China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and curtail Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit www.pen.org/china
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105