Chinese Government Tightens Surveillance After Dissident's Nobel Win

Liu Xiaobo has been serving an 11-year sentence for a democratic manifesto.

BEIJING, Oct.18, 2010— -- When Yu Jie returned to his home Thursday, he immediately noticed that something was different.

"Ten minutes after I got back from a trip to the U.S., the police called me to say that from now I would need a police escort anytime I wanted to leave the house," he said.

The human rights activist is accustomed to the close scrutiny from Chinese authorities. He recently published a controversial book about China's Premier Wen Jiabao entitled "China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao."

But in the week since imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, Yu says, the situation has intensified.

"It's even stricter than it was during the Olympic Games," he said. "On Friday afternoon, I wanted to have dinner with my friends but the police told me that I couldn't go because the police said all those under surveillance cannot leave their houses. Then on Sunday night, I just went out to dinner and drove myself. The police followed me to the restaurant and took a table next to us."

Chinese censors have mostly succeeded in hiding the news of Liu's prize; most Chinese don't even know who he is.

The literary critic and activist is serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in authoring a manifesto, known as Charter '08, which called for democratic reforms in China.

Nobel Prize Provides Inspiration for Activists

China's foreign ministry called the award "a desecration" and has warned that it will come at the expense of diplomatic ties between Norway and China. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since new her husband was awarded the prize.

But for those who know and admire Liu, the award has provided a flash of inspiration and excitement. Chinese activists and reformers communicated on Twitter about trying to organize celebrations when they heard he had been awarded the Peace Prize.

Activists Demand Liu Xiaobo's Release

At one such gathering, a young woman was arrested for accidentally splashing a guard with champagne. She was later released on bail.

About 100 Chinese activists signed an open letter Thursday asking that Liu be released from prison, calling on authorities to "stop these illegal actions."

The day before, a group of 23 Communist Party elders, including a former secretary to Chairman Mao, wrote an open letter calling for an end to the country's restrictions on free speech.

Freedom of speech is technically guaranteed by China's 1982 constitution, although that is clearly not the case in practice.

"This kind of false democracy of affirming in principle and denying in actuality is a scandal in the history of democracy," the letter read. "Chinese citizens have the right to know about the crimes and misdeeds of the ruling party."

The letter was addressed to the National People's Congress and came before Friday's Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Party Committee, during the course of which the Communist Party decides on a socio-economic development plan for the next five years.

The letter could not be found on any mainland Chinese websites, although it appeared to have been taken down from a couple of them.

Yu Jie accepts that police won't be leaving him alone anytime soon. But it doesn't change his commitment to the work he and others are doing.

"I don't think it will get better soon," he said. "It could even get worse. My phones are being tapped, my e-mails are being read and there are police sitting outside my apartment at all times.

"But none of it will stop me from continuing the work I have been doing."