Video: Chinese prisoner awarded Nobel Peace Prize

  1. Closed captioning of: Chinese prisoner awarded Nobel Peace Prize

    >>> this year's nobel peace prize was awarded to a man who will not be able to accept it in person. that's because he's serving 11 years in a chinese prison for subversion, advocating free speech and democracy there. he's perhaps china's best known disside dissident. the nobel committee cited his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights . the chinese government criticized the award saying it runs completely counter to the principles of the prize.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/8/2010 11:28:24 AM ET 2010-10-08T15:28:24

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights" — a decision that produced a bitter reaction from the Chinese government as well as renewed calls for his release from President Barack Obama and others.

"China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people," Obama, last year's Nobel peace laureate, said in a statement. "But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible."

Thorbjoern Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman, said China's government should expect its policies to face scrutiny as it has transformed into a big power both economically and politically.

"We have to speak when others cannot speak," Jagland told reporters. "As China is rising, we should have the right to criticize ... We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic."

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In its written citation, the committee praised Liu and noted his history of leadership.

"Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China," the citation concluded.

The prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) and will be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10. It was not immediately known who would collect the prize if Liu could not do so.

Jagland told The Associated Press that the committee had not tried to reach the imprisoned laureate or his wife, Liu Xia, but they would try to make contact with the Chinese Embassy in Oslo.

Unlike some in China's highly fractured and persecuted dissident community, the 54-year-old Liu has been an ardent advocate for peaceful, gradual political change, rather than a violent confrontation with the government.

The Nobel citation said China's new status a big economic and political power must entail increased responsibility.

"China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights," it said, citing an article in China's constitution about freedom of speech and assembly.

"In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens," the citation said.

'I can hardly believe it'
Liu Xia said she hoped the international community would now press China to free her husband, adding that the country itself should "have pride in his selection, and release him from prison." He is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, which was imposed last year.

She said she had not expected her husband to win. "I can hardly believe it because my life has been filled with too many bad things," she said in an emotional telephone interview with Hong Kong's Cable television.

"This prize is not only for Xiaobo but for everyone working for human rights and justice in China," she added.

The Reuters news agency later spoke to her by phone and she told them that Beijing police were taking her to the prison in Jinzhou in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where her husband was being held.

"They are forcing me to leave Beijing," said Liu Xia as her brothers packed her bags with plainclothes police waiting for her outside. "They want me to go to Liaoning to see Xiaobo. They want to distance me from the media."

The Dalai Lama also called on China to release Liu, saying the the peace prize was the international community's recognition of increasing voices within China for reform.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the 1989 peace prize, but China vilifies him as a traitor for seeking more autonomy for Tibet.

"I believe in the years ahead, future generations of Chinese will be able to enjoy the fruits of the efforts that the current Chinese citizens are making toward responsible governance," he said in a statement on his website.

Story: Governments and activists react to Liu's Peace Prize

In China, broadcasts of CNN, which is available in tourist hotels, upmarket foreign hotels and places where foreigners gather, went black during the Nobel announcement and when reports about the award later aired.

China said the decision would hurt its relations with Norway.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that the award should have gone to someone who had promoted international friendship and disarmament.

"Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law," it said.

'Blasphemy'
Awarding the prize to Liu "runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize," it added.

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China later summoned Norway's ambassador in Beijing to make a formal protest, Norway's foreign ministry said.

"They wanted to officially share their opinion, their disagreement and their protest," a ministry spokeswoman said. "We emphasised that this is an independent committee and the need to continue good bilateral relations between our countries."

It was the first Nobel for the Chinese dissident community since it resurfaced after the country's communist leadership launched economic, but not political reforms three decades ago.

The last dissident to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Iranian lawyer and human rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi, in 2003.

The win could jolt a current debate among the leadership and the elite over whether China should begin democratic reforms and if so how quickly.

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Liu co-authored a document, Charter 08, which called for greater freedoms and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance.

It was an intentional echo of Charter 77, the famous call for human rights in then-Czechoslovakia that led to the 1989 Velvet Revolution that swept away communist rule.

"The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer," Charter 08 says.

Thousands of Chinese signed Charter 08, and the Communist Party took the document as a direct challenge.

Liu's arrest and trial
Police arrested Liu hours before Charter 08 was due to be released in December 2008. Given a brief trial last Christmas Day, Liu was convicted of subversion for writing it and other political tracts and given the 11-year sentence.

In a year with a record 237 nominations for the peace prize, Liu had been considered a favorite, with open support from winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and others.

The son of a soldier, Liu joined China's first wave of university students in the mid-1970s after the chaotic decade of the Cultural Revolution.

Liu's writing first took a political turn in 1988, when he became a visiting scholar in Oslo — his first time outside China.

Liu cut short a visiting scholar stint at Columbia University months later to join the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. He and three other older activists famously persuaded students to peacefully leave the square hours before the deadly June 4 crackdown.

Liu went to prison after the incident and was released in early 1991 because he had repented and "performed major meritorious services," state media said at the time, without elaborating.

Still, five years later Liu was sent to a re-education camp for three years for co-writing an open letter that demanded the impeachment of then-President Jiang Zemin.

World Blog: Chinese find ways to learn of Nobel prize

Past winners
Previous winners of the award include Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, former President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

In an earlier interview with Norwegian broadcast network NRK, committee chair Jagland explained some of the decision-making process.

"We have to try to capture what is happening in the world, identify what we want to encourage and I think we are able to achieve that (with this year's prize)." Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister, has been in charge of the committee since 2009.

Last year's choice of Obama, less than nine months into his term, triggered sharp criticism. Nobel watchers had said the panel was likely to select a more traditional laureate this year.

"It will be an interesting prize this year, as well, and one that can set the agenda," Jagland said of this year's choice.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Explainer: Nobel Peace Prize winners: Past and present

  • Image: Mother Teresa
    Eddie Adams  /  AP
    Portrait of Mother Teresa, head of the Missionaries of Charity order, as she cradles an armless baby girl at her order's orphanage in Calcutta, India, in 1978.

    Mother Teresa. Nelson Mandela. Barack Obama.

    They're just a few of the peacemakers chosen for the world's most coveted award, given out yearly since 1901.

    The prerequisite for winning the Nobel Peace Prize: making a difference.

    The prize lauds people for their work in a wide range of fields including human rights, mediation of international conflicts, arms control and the world's environment.

    Each laureate takes home a shiny gold medal and at least $1 million. They use the money to further their cause, whether it's building new hospitals or schools for the poor or funding research.

    Here's a brief look at some laureates.

    Sources: The Associated Press and Reuters

  • Who were the contenders?

  • Image: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo
    Family photo via Reuters file
    Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is the front-runner to win the 2010 Nobel Peace, according to Norwegian TV reports.

    The other contenders for the 2010 prize, won by Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, above, were:

    * The European Union and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl

    * Afghan women's rights campaigner Sima Samar

    * Chinese Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer

    * Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

    * The International Criminal Court

    * The Democratic Voice of Burma, an Oslo-based radio and television station that beams in news to military-ruled Myanmar

    * Argentine rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo

  • 'Call to action'

  • Image: President Obama
    Jason Reed  /  Reuters
    President Barack Obama donated his prize money to charity.

    Name: Barack Obama, president of the United States
    Year: 2009
    Reason: Efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe.

    Obama expressed surprise at the prize, saying he was humbled and would accept it as a "call to action" to work with other nations to solve the problems of the 21st century.

    Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said their choice could be seen as an early vote of confidence in Obama intended to build global support for his policies. They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the U.S. role in combating climate change.

    Obama donated his prize to charity, White House officials said.

  • 'World champion'

    Image: Martti Ahtisaari
    Bernd Settnik  /  EPA file
    Finnish former president and peace broker Martti Ahtisaari.

    Name: Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland
    Year: 2008
    Reason: Efforts to build a lasting peace in places as diverse as East Timor and the Balkans in Europe.

    "He is a world champion when it comes to peace and he never gives up," Ole Danbolt Mjoes, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel awards committee, told The Associated Press.

    The honor was in line with recent Nobels to other peace mediators, notably Jimmy Carter in 2002 and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001, he said.

  • Climate change

  • Al Gore
    Jeff Chiu  /  AP file
    Former Vice President Al Gore

    Name: Environmental activist and former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    Year: 2007
    Reason: Awarded for sounding the alarm over global warming and spreading awareness on how to counteract it.

    "His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change," the Nobel citation said. "He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

    It cited Gore's awareness at an early stage "of the climatic challenges the world is facing."

  • Making a difference

  • Fabrice Coffrini / AFP - Getty Images file
    Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh.

    Name: Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi economist and founder of Grameen Bank.
    Year: 2006
    Reason: Lauded for their pioneering use of tiny, seemingly insignificant loans — microcredit — to lift millions out of poverty.

    Through his efforts and those of the bank he founded, poor people around the world, especially women, have been able to buy cows, a few chickens or the cell phone they desperately need to get ahead.

  • Arms control

  • Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Rudi Blaha  /  AP file
    IAEA director Mohamed El Baradei.

    Name: The International Atomic Energy Agency and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei
    Year: 2005
    Reason: Their drive to curb the spread of atomic weapons by using diplomacy to resolve standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

    The Nobel Committee’s decision backed negotiations and inspections, not military action, as the best way to handle volatile nations. It also was seen as a message to the Bush administration, which invaded Iraq after claiming U.N. efforts to eradicate Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions had failed and which opposed ElBaradei’s appointment to another term.

  • Environmentalist

  • Kenyan Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Maathai.
    Gianluigi Guercia  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Kenyan Nobel peace prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai.

    Name: Wangari Maathai
    Year: 2004
    Reason: Selected for her role in founding the Green Belt Movement, which has sought to empower women, improve the environment and fight corruption in Africa for nearly 30 years.

    Maathai was the first African woman and first Kenyan to win. Maathi, who also was the 12th woman to be honored, warned that the world remained under attack from disease, deforestation and war, and she urged new approaches to solving those problems.

  • Activist

  • Ebadi
    Francois Mori  /  AP
    Iranian lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi.

    Name: Shirin Ebadi
    Year: 2003
    Reason: Received the honor for her efforts in democracy and human rights.

    Iran's first female judge led the country's struggle for women's and children's rights. She is best known for defending persecuted Iranians and has braved reprisals for her work and beliefs.

  • 'Untiring effort'

  • Image: Jimmy Carter
    Roberto Schmidt  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

    Name: Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president
    Year: 2002
    Reason: Honored for his pursuit of peace, health and human rights.

    The Nobel Committee applauded Carter's "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."

    His peace work started with the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.

  • Global peace

  • ANNAN
    Stuart Ramson  /  AP file
    Kofi Annan.

    Name: United Nations and Kofi Annan
    Year: 2001
    Reason: Praised the international organization and its secretary general for working for human rights, fighting HIV/AIDS and terrorism, and attempting to defuse global conflicts.

  • Famous winners

  • Image: Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
    AP
    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Among other famous winners:

    1906: President Theodore Roosevelt for his treaty between Russia and Japan.

    1919: Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president and founder of the League of Nations.

    1964: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, campaigner for civil rights.

    1973: Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state, and Le Duc Tho, North Vietnam, who declined the prize. Jointly negotiated the Vietnam peace accord in 1973.

    1979: Mother Teresa, leader of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity.

    1983: Lech Walesa, Poland, founder of Solidarity, campaigner for human rights.

    1989: The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, for his religious and political leadership of the Tibetan people.

    1990: Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, helped to bring the Cold War to an end.

    1991: Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader and human rights advocate in Myanmar.

    1993: Nelson Mandela, former South African president.

    1994: Yasser Arafat, Palestine, PLO leader; Shimon Peres, Israeli foreign minister; and Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli prime minister. The three were lauded for efforts to settle the conflict in the Middle East.

  • Trivia

  • Image: Mahatma Gandhi
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    circa 1935: Indian spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    No Gandhi? Why?: Mohandas Gandhi was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before he was assassinated in January 1948.

    The omission has been publicly regretted by the Nobel Committee; when the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi." However, the committee has never commented on the speculation as to why Gandhi was not awarded the prize.

    Embarrassing moments: How about a few candidates the Nobel committee has managed to avoid: Adolf Hitler, nominated in 1939 by a Swedish legislator and withdrawn the same year; Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, nominated in 1945 by a Norwegian former foreign minister and in 1948 by a Czech professor; Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who got two nominations in 1935, by a French law professor and a German college law faculty member.

    The first ones: Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, shared the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 with Frédéric Passy, a leading international pacifist of the time.

    America brings one home: Twenty-two Americans have won the Nobel Prize for Peace since its introduction in 1901, including two standing presidents - Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson - and one former president, Jimmy Carter.

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