Jailed Dissident Wins Nobel Peace Prize; Rights Groups Applaud as China Fumes

VIDEO: The Chinese Human Rights campaigner currently is imprisoned in China.PlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Liu Xiaobo

China is fuming about imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, but the international human rights community, along with a considerable number of Chinese citizens, is celebrating tonight.

"It's a huge boost for the human rights cause in China," said Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch. "The Nobel Prize committee has stood up for human rights in a way that Western governments are now hesitant to do because of the growing economic clout of China."

Liu, 54, has spent the last 20 years in and out of Chinese prisons and re-education camps. Before that, he was a professor and intellectual writer, frequently traveling abroad as a scholar.

VIDEO: China condemns Liu Xiaobos Nobel award, calling it blasphemy.Play
Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Chinese Dissident

Andrew Nathan, a professor at Columbia University in New York, helped Liu secure a fellowship there, a post he left in the spring of 1989 to take part in the democratic uprising in Beijing. Nathan told ABC News that Liu's recognition is a long overdue.

"It's surprising how long it has taken and how hard it has been for the Chinese democracy [and] human rights community to carve out the wonderful position that Liu did, which was Gandhi-like or Mandela-like," he said.

Liu is currently serving an 11-year prison term for co-authoring Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic reform in China. His wife traveled to the prison today to tell him the news of his award. Despite the outcry from China's government, which called the committee's selection a "desecration" and described Liu as a "criminal," Nathan said the timing of the prize is perfect.

"There are strong forces contending to move the country in both the right, and in the wrong, direction," Nathan told ABC News. "This is a great time for the Nobel committee to give a little push to the correct side."

Regular Chinese citizens agreed. Excited Chinese supporters were posting the good news on Twitter.

Others sent text messages in Beijing and Shanghai trying to organize celebratory dinners, before authorities began blocking texts containing Liu's name in Chinese. They couldn't erase what had already been sent, however.

Activists Applaud Nobel Winner While China Fumes

"Finally the day has come," tweeted Wang Dan, a Chinese citizen and a dissident himself, "Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. Excited!!!"

Winning this prize, supporters say, ensures Liu's message will be heard around the world and, more importantly, within his home country.

"Millions and millions of Chinese people will hear the name Liu Xiaobo today," said Bogert. "[His] message is going to react exponentially more people today than it has ever reached before."

Click here to watch Liu's interview with ABC's David Kerley in August 2008, one of his last TV appearances before he was imprisoned four months later.