Recipient of China's Confucius Peace Prize Unaware of Award

Beijing Blocks Western Media Reports of Nobel Ceremony

December 8, 2010, 3:14 PM

Dec. 9, 2010 — -- China awarded its answer to the Nobel Peace Prize today after a long campaign to vilify this year's laureate, Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.

To the dismay of human rights activists around the world, Beijing has conducted a sweeping crackdown on dissent and demanded that other governments boycott Friday's Nobel ceremony in Oslo.

"The Chinese government is not happy that Liu Xiaobo is receiving this award, and that was to be expected," Minky Worden, the director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said. "But the overreaction that we've seen from Beijing is not worthy of a government that projects [itself] abroad as a strong, confident, growing and responsible power."

Liu, 54, whose long career of activism stretches back to the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement, was sentenced last year after he co-authored a manifesto calling for human rights and political reform titled Charter 08. His wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest shortly after it was announced he was this year's recipient of the Nobel.

Rights group Amnesty International estimates more than 250 people have either been stopped from going abroad, detained, or put under house arrest ahead of Friday's ceremony, as part of a clampdown in China that has blocked Western media. BBC and CNN's Web sites were both down in China on Thursday, while BBC is completely blocked on television. Though CNN's broadcast is still up, all reports about Liu and the Nobel Prize are blocked.

As part of the media crackdown, ABC News was prevented from filming in Tiananmen Square, after being surrounded and questioned by police. ABC News' Clarissa Ward said it is normal for police to ask members of the press for accreditation, but rarely are reporters forbidden from filming in the square. A woman videotaped the group, and another man in plainclothes wearing a clip-on camera questioned the crew in Chinese, only switching to perfect English at the very end of the conversation.

As pro-democracy protestors gathered in Oslo in support of Liu, China presented the inaugural Confucius Peace Prize at a ceremony Thursday, honoring a man who was not aware he was receiving the award. Confucius Prize panel members refused to take questions about the Nobel Prize and Liu, who is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion.

The office of former vice president of Taiwan, Lien Chan, said he had not heard of the Confucius award, and he was not present at the ceremony to collect it. Ward, who attended the ceremony, said a 5-year-old girl, of no relation to the recipient, accepted the award of $15,000.

Though the awards committee stressed the Confucius Peace Prize had nothing to do with the Nobel, the booklet handed out at the ceremony said, "China is a symbol of peace, meanwhile it won the absolute power to uphold peace ... In essence, Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population."

Worden said "the logic is that they think if they give this prize the day before, than no one will notice the giant ceremony in Oslo with the empty chair."

This year will be the first time a laureate or a representative is not formally represented at the Oslo awards gala since Nazi Germany barred pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from attending in 1935.

On Thursday, Ward attempted to visit some of those under house arrest -- Liu Xia, the jailed laureate's wife, and Yu Jie, a supporter of Liu and a human rights activist. At both homes, the ABC crew was stopped and accosted by security guards.

On the gates of Liu Xia's house, there were signs that said "this community declines interviews," and Ward was followed by a black car on the street.

Outside the home of Yu Jie, an activist and good friend of Liu Xiaobo's, a plainclothes policeman swatted away the crew's video camera and threatened to "smash" it if the crew kept shooting.

Ward interviewed Yu in August when the 37-year-old author published a book that criticized Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. He said, "despite the tremendous risks," he will "continue to work towards establishing freedom of speech here in China." He has not been seen or heard from in three weeks.

Though his friend Liu received such a harsh sentence, Yu said activists must keep fighting because if "we stop ... because we have been intimidated by the example the Communist Party has made out of Liu, then their purpose has been achieved. We must continue to do what he has done. We must work towards conquering our fears."

Despite pressure from Beijing that other countries boycott the Oslo ceremony, the State Department confirmed Wednesday the U.S. ambassador to Oslo, Barry White, will attend. So far, 19 countries have agreed to boycott the ceremony.

"All we can say is that we will be there on Friday to observe this recognition, and we know that we will not be alone, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said. "We obviously strongly support the statement that was made by the Nobel Committee in selecting Liu Xiaobo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize."

Norwegian Nobel Committee spokesman Geir Lundenstad said, "I've never ever experienced that one country approaches all the other embassies here and strongly encourages them to stay away from the ceremony."

Worden said China's campaign to block news of the Nobel Prize and to pressure other countries to not support the award is "a great irony, because the Chinese government wanted a Nobel Prize for many decades, they sought the prize"

She said the context of this year's Nobel Prize is very important, and "this is not an award that came as human rights are improving in China. This is an award that actually came at ... a very low period for human rights and the rule of law in China."

In an interview with ABC News shortly before his arrest in 2008, Liu said he did not think activists are freer than during the time of the Tiananmen Square protests.

"It's either they put me in jail, or they keep me at home, but put me under surveillance," he said. "I know it's difficult, but I consider it a moral duty because I was involved in the 1989 movement, and a lot of people sacrificed their lives, so that's why I've chosen this path."ABC's Clarissa Ward, Beth Loyd and David Muir contributed to this report.

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