BEIJING Oct. 8, 2010— -- Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today, angering China which condemned the selection as a "desecration" and described Liu as a "criminal."
In choosing Liu, the Nobel committee cited his efforts to use non-violence to demand fundamental human rights in his homeland.
Liu, 54, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last December for his role in creating a manifesto entitled Charter 08, calling for democratic reform in China.
China reacted quickly to the Liu's selection, although the announcement was blacked out in China. Both the BBC and CNN went to black during the coverage of the award.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a short, angry statement on its website declaring, "The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award individuals who promote international harmony and friendship, peace and disarmament. Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law. Awarding the peace to Liu runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a desecration of the Peace Prize."
The statement also warned the giving the prize to Liu will "damage to the relations between China and Norway.
President Obama, who received the prize last year, said Liu is an "eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law."
Click here to see ABC News' interview with Liu Xiaobo just before his arrest.
The president scolded China over Liu's imprisonment.
"Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace... We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible."
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Laureate who has also clashed with China over human rights issues, congratulated Liu and called on China to release him.
Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, praised Liu's selection and said, "This award comes at a critical historical crossroads in China and constitutes a powerful affirmation for the voices calling for change."
Chinese authorities would not allow access to Liu today.
His wife, however, expressed joy at the news. Surrounded by police at their Beijing apartment, Liu Xia was not allowed out to meet reporters. Instead she gave brief remarks by phone and text message, saying she was happy and that she planned to go Saturday to deliver the news to Liu at the prison, 300 miles away.
Hong Kong Cable Television quoted her in a Twitter message as saying that Liu will draw encouragement from the award and she hoped to go to Norway to collect the prize if he could not.
Liu Xiaobo's Activism Goes Back to Tiananmen Square
Though Liu is not well-known to ordinary Chinese, his activism goes back to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989. In an interview with David Kerley of ABC News a few months before his arrest in 2008, Liu explained the deep impact on him of the military crackdown in Beijing.
"The most important reason I am doing this is because I participated in the 1989 movement," he said. " There were so many young and innocent lives sacrificed at that time under the guns and tanks of the Communist Party. These victims cannot be given their due recognition at present. But as long as I am alive I will continue to fight for justice. As a survivor of that movement, I believe I have a moral responsibility to clear their names."
When "Charter 08" was issued, thousands of Chinese signed the document and the Communist Party considered it a challenge to its rule. "The democratization of Chinese politics can no longer be put off," the manifesto said. It echoed Charter 77, the famous call for human rights in Czechoslovakia that led to the collapse of communist rule in 1989.
During the interview with ABC News, Liu said that international pressure can help to persuade Chinese leaders. "International pressure plays a role but it's not realistic to expect a change in China's human rights situation immediately. Aside from international pressure, much will depend on the efforts of generations of Chinese."
When asked when he expects China to be a democracy in his lifetime, Liu responded, "I don't think about this in those terms. I have chosen this path because I believe it is the right thing to do. I know there will be some sacrifices involved but one must be prepared to pay a price for whatever one chooses to do. "
The Associated Press contributed to this report