Nobel Peace Prize goes to an empty chair
Nobel Peace Prize ceremony goes ahead without the winner, Liu Xiaobo, co-author of the pro-democracy manifesto Charter 08, who was given 11 years in prison for demanding greater democracy in China. Liu “is far more deserving of this award than I was,” Obama says.

Oslo (AsiaNews) – The ceremony for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo included a speech by the Norwegian Committee’s Chairman Thosbjorn Jagland, a letter by Liu read by world-famous Swedish actress Liv Ullmann and a concert by a children’s choir, violin and piano. It did not include the traditional acceptance speech by the winner. The committee gave instead the award to an empty chair.

The piece of furniture was a stand-in for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, co-author of the pro-democracy Charter 08, sent to prison for 11 years because he demanded more democracy in China. Chinese dissident Yang Jianli was present at the ceremony; Liu’s wife had indicated him as their representative. Uyghur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer, the foreign minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile as well as other members of China’s dissident movement were also in attendance.

US President Barack Obama issued a statement for the occasion. “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was,” the US leader said. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.  But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law.  The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible. I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year.”

The Chairman of the Nobel Committee Thosbjorn Jagland said that since Liu or his family could not be at the ceremony, there would be no formal handover of the prize and the US$ 1.5 million cheque; instead, the award went to his stand-in, an empty chair, two words (along with Oslo) that were quickly off-limits on Chinese websites after local bloggers began posting photos of empty chairs, in an open reference to Liu Xiaobo.

In the meantime, friends of the Nobel Prize laureate continue to be arrested in China. Liu Xiaobo’s wife Xia also continues to be under a tight watch, so are the homes of other dissidents, to prevent any contact with the foreign press.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Liu’s friend and fellow activist Zhang Zuhua, pro-democracy lawyers Li Fangping and Teng Biao and journalist Gao Yu as well as dozens of other “dangerous” figures were forced to leave the capital and are closely monitored by the authorities.

Yet, despite tight controls, about a hundred people demonstrated in front of the United Nations offices in Beijing to mark International Human Rights Day a few hours before the Oslo ceremony, this according to a UN source.

“We saw a large group of people in front of the compound, and it was larger than in previous years on Human Rights Day,' the UN official said.

Many security vehicles were present nearby as well.