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Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, pose in this undated photo released by his family on Oct. 3, 2010. (HO)
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, pose in this undated photo released by his family on Oct. 3, 2010. (HO)

Wife of Chinese Nobel laureate under house arrest after weekend visit Add to ...

If those who awarded Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize were hoping to encourage more openness from China's repressive government, they've drawn the opposite reaction.

Mr. Liu remains in prison in Liaoning province. While his wife, Liu Xia, was allowed to visit him over the weekend to tell him he was now a Nobel laureate, she was placed under house arrest and prevented from using her mobile phone upon her return to Beijing.

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"I'm under house arrest. I don't know when I can meet you guys. My mobile phone was broken and I have no way to take calls," Ms. Liu said via her Twitter account. Her house arrest was confirmed by Freedom Now, a team of international human-rights activists that represents Mr. Liu.

Ms. Liu said that when her husband found out about the Nobel Prize, he broke down in tears and said the award was "for the Tiananmen martyrs" - referring to those who died during a bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Mr. Liu, a former literature professor, first shot to prominence during those protests, advising the movement's student leaders and leading a hunger strike. Afterward he spent 20 months in jail for his involvement, and emerged an even more unshakeable opponent of the ruling Communist Party.

In awarding the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee mentioned Mr. Liu's presence on Tiananmen Square as well as his more recent role as a lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression in China. Mr. Liu was arrested again after the publication of Charter 08, and sentenced on Dec. 25, 2009, to 11 years in prison.

Many Chinese likely still have no idea that Mr. Liu has become the country's first resident Nobel laureate. Despite a sense of national embarrassment that no Chinese national living in China had ever won a Nobel Prize, there has been almost no coverage of Mr. Liu's accomplishment in the state-controlled media.

Those Chinese media that did make mention of the award ran only a small article from the official Xinhua news wire that quoted a foreign ministry official saying the award could hurt ties between Beijing and Oslo. Meanwhile, the English-language Global Times newspaper, which is affiliated with the Communist Party, called the choice of Mr. Liu "a disgrace," noting that other nominees included Mr. Liu's fellow dissident Hu Jia, as well as Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader of the country's ethnic Uighur community whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist. The paper said the award would stir up anger among ordinary Chinese.

"They have reason to question whether the Nobel Peace Prize has been degraded to a political tool that serves an anti-China purpose. It seems that instead of peace and unity in China, the Nobel committee would like to see the country split by an ideological rift, or better yet, collapse like the Soviet Union."

In a sign of how anxious Beijing is to prevent any public rallying around Mr. Liu's award, police broke up two small gatherings of dissidents who had hoped to celebrate Mr. Liu's victory over the weekend.

One group of about 20 people was arrested shortly after they tried to gather in a Beijing restaurant on Saturday. Another two dozen people had planned to light fireworks in front of the Central Party School, which trains future Communist leaders, on Friday night but called off the demonstration after warnings from police.

Nonetheless, news of Mr. Liu's win - and the contents of Charter 08 - continued to spread online among China's 420 million Internet users. Though search terms such as "Liu Xiaobo" and "Nobel Peace Prize" return only error messages, some Chinese Internet users bravely reposted the contents of the Charter 08 for others to read.

The banned manifesto is based on Charter 77, a similar call for democracy that became a rallying point for anti-Communist forces in the former Czechoslovakia.

"The government will certainly try all means to block [the news of Mr. Liu's win] but we are in the Internet age, so it is impossible to block it completely," said Wen Kejian, a Hangzhou-based writer who was among the first to sign Charter 08 when it was published in December, 2008. "The Nobel Prize will surely help more people read and know what Liu has done, and to hear about Charter 08."

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