Patrick Poon, Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, Emily Lau
Kin Cheung  /  AP
Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers, from left, Emily Lau, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho with activist Patrick Poon meet the media with a picture of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/10/2010 12:35:09 AM ET 2010-12-10T05:35:09

Chinese security agents launched a wide-ranging clampdown on dissidents Friday, hours ahead of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers guarded the entrance to the compound in central Beijing where Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has lived under house arrest since the October announcement that her husband would receive the prize. Officers have guarded her home since her house arrest, but were out in greater force ahead of the award ceremony.

Guards checked the identities of all who entered, while about a dozen journalists stood just outside the gate. Police cars were positioned on every surrounding corner, and officers patrolled outside the apartment block where the blinds were drawn on Liu's two-story unit.

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Liu Xia's phone and Internet connections have been cut off, and friends, family and colleagues in the country's embattled dissident community have been placed under house arrest or tight surveillance. Several in the community, including renowned artist Ai Weiwei and human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, have been barred from leaving the country, apparently out of fear they might attend Friday's award ceremony in Oslo. Others have been removed from Beijing by security agents to keep them out of the loop entirely.

Liu's award has elicited a furious and wide-ranging response from Beijing, with daily tirades in state media and regular denouncements from Foreign Ministry officials. The vilification campaign has rocketed Liu from relative obscurity to worldwide fame, in apparent contradiction to the communist leadership's desire to negate his influence with an 11-year prison sentence for sedition. The term was handed down after he co-authored a bold appeal for human rights and multiparty democracy.

Pressure builds
While Liu has faced the brunt of Beijing's condemnation, scores of other dissidents and independent social activists have also come under pressure.

Numerous lawyers, academics and non-governmental organization activists were prevented from attending a seminar on the rule of law hosted by the European Union on Thursday due to being under house arrest or having been physically stopped by police officers, said EU ambassador Serge Abou.

"It's a pity, and in fact it's a shame," Abou said.

On Thursday Chinese authorities blocked news websites, The New York Times reported.

Chinese censors targeted CNN, the BBC and the Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the Times reported.

"In recent weeks, CNN and BBC television broadcasts have repeatedly gone dark in China during news segments about the Nobel Prize’s being awarded to Mr. Liu, only to reappear after the segment is completed," The New York Times reported.

At least 18 countries declined to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Liu Friday while 45 planned to attend despite Chinese pressure for them to stay away, a revised guest list from the organizers showed Thursday.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., planned to attend.

World Blog: China's petitioners demand answers

Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad said Liu will be represented "by an empty chair ... the strongest possible argument" for awarding it to him.

Nobel laureate Liu, a democracy activist, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.

Story: Protesters demand China free Nobel winner Liu
Image: Protestors hold a candlelight vigil for Liu Xiaobo
Mike Clarke  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Protestors hold a candlelight vigil for the release of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong on November 2, 2010.

China was infuriated when the prestigious $1.4 million prize was awarded to the 54-year-old literary critic, describing it as an attack on its political and legal system.

Chinese authorities have placed Liu's supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest to prevent anyone from picking up his prize.

'Freedom to Liu!'
On Thursday, about 100 protesters chanting "Freedom to Liu! Freedom for China!" marched to the Chinese Embassy in Oslo and tried to deliver a petition with more than 100,000 signatures urging the dissident's release from prison.

"Liu should not be jailed for his words. It's against the Chinese Constitution," said demonstrator Renee Xia. "The Chinese government is violating its own constitution by criminalizing free speech."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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