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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Chinese dissident tipped for Nobel Peace Prize

October 8, 2010

By Bill Schiller
Toronto Star
October 5, 2010

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.
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