Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday, but he probably doesn’t even know it yet. Liu, a Chinese literary critic and the country’s most prominent human rights dissident, is in prison. In awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee sent an undeniable message to the Chinese government that it must get its human rights house in order.
Tiananmen Square leader is Nobel laureate
Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for subversion. The New York Times reports that by awarding the prize to Liu, the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave substance to an international rebuke of Beijing’s growing intolerance of dissent. The Chinese Foreign Ministry referred to Liu as a “criminal,” called his award a “desecration” of the Nobel Peace Prize and said it would damage Norwegian-Chinese relations. Liu has been harassed and arrested repeatedly since 1989, when he organized a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square and later convinced students to peacefully retreat as soldiers stood ready to mow them down.
A history of imprisoned Nobel laureates
Liu Xiaobo can be added to the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners who have been awarded the honor while incarcerated. CNN reports that anti-Nazi journalist Carl von Ossietzky was the first Nobel Peace laureate to get the prize while imprisoned in Hitler’s Germany in the mid-1930s. Unless he is set free to receive the award in Oslo in December, Liu will join others including Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who were unable to receive their medals in person.
Why Liu’s Nobel has special meaning
While the world has engaged with China as its economy booms, Gady Epstein at Forbes said most countries have looked away as Beijing has brutally suppressed dissent. Epstein writes that many Chinese dissidents who westerners have never heard of are being locked away for “peaceful, noble and brave actions.” He points to human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, more famous than Liu at one time and a rumored Nobel contender until he was dragged away by police and forgotten. Perhaps Liu’s Nobel will force the Chinese government to eventually relent and let its people enjoy the freedom that should complement its new-found economic clout.