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China seeks to block news of Peace Prize for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo

Chinese policemen close the gate to the apartment compound where jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo home is located, in Beijing on October 8, 2010. China said that the Norwegian Nobel committee has "violated" the integrity of the Peace Prize by awarding it to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo and warned that ties with Oslo would suffer.


The long-stagnant politics of China received a rare jolt with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed pro-democracy dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The initial reaction inside China was predictable: complete silence.

Foreign television stations such as CNN and BBC that went live to the award ceremony in Oslo had their signals blocked just before the announcement was made. The state-run Xinhua news wire carried nothing on the announcement, and there was nothing on the main page of the web portal, the Chinese equivalent of Yahoo or Google.

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In its first response after the announcement, China's Foreign Ministry said the Nobel Peace Committee violated its principles by honouring the "criminal" Mr. Liu. A written statement said awarding the peace prize to Liu "runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize." It also warned that the decision will hurt its relations with Norway.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told national broadcaster NRK he saw no grounds for China to punish Norway as a country for the award.

"I think that would be negative for China's reputation in the world, if they chose to do that," Mr. Stoltenberg said.

On Friday, Norway said China had summoned its ambassador in Beijing to protest the awarding of the peace prize to Mr. Liu.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said China should "look seriously" at releasing Mr. Liu. More than anything, however, Mr. Harper said he wants to congratulate the jailed dissident for the award.

In Europe, the governments of France and Germany called on China to now release Mr. Liu. United States President Barack Obama, on Friday, called on China to quickly release Mr. Liu.

He said in a statement that Mr. Liu "has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs" and is "an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and nonviolent means."

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Reporters were prevented from visiting his wife Liu Xia and a police line was established outside the central Beijing apartment block where the couple lives.

In a telephone call with an AFP reporter, Ms. Liu said: "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I don't know what to say.

"I want to thank everyone for supporting Liu Xiaobo. I want to thank the Nobel committee, Vaclav Havel, the Dalai Lama and all those people that have supported Liu Xiaobo," she said.

"I strongly ask that the Chinese government release Liu Xiaobo."

It's likely that Mr. Liu himself is among the many Chinese who haven't yet heard the news. He likely spent the day in a cell he shares with five inmates at a prison 500 kilometres outside Beijing.

Mr. Liu was handed an 11-year sentence last year for "inciting subversion of state power" - punishment for drafting the pro-democracy manifesto known as Charter 08. The document calls for greater freedom of expression and religion in China, as well as an end to human-rights abuses and authoritarian rule.

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Mr. Liu, a former university professor, was also prominent during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, joining his students in a hunger strike and later encouraging many to leave once it became apparent that a military crackdown had begun.

Outside the residence he normally shares with his wife on South Yuyuantan Street it was apparent that the propaganda apparatus of the ruling Communist Party - which has long tried to control what information the country's 1.3 billion citizens receive - now faces a giant challenge.

In the moments after the announcement, curious neighbours and passersby stopped to ask why a cluster of international journalists had gathered on their block.

"Liu Xiaobo. He's won the Nobel Peace Prize," a man in jeans and sneakers - who identified himself as a friend of Mr. Liu - told half a dozen curious faces around him.

"This is a difficult challenge for our government," said a neighbour in a track suit who refused to be named.

"This is good news because many Chinese people have wanted (the country to win) a Nobel Prize for many years, but it's a problem because people in the government have different views about (Mr. Liu)."

Human rights advocates praised the Nobel Committee's choice. "The most important aspect (of Mr. Liu winning the prize) is to shatter the myth where the Communist Party presents itself as the voice of the Chinese people," said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, a lobby group.

Mr. Liu is the first Chinese citizen living in China to receive the Peace Prize. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, won the award in 1989.

With files from Associated Press and The Canadian Press

Mark MacKinnon in China

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About the Author
Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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