China’s Jailed Nobel Laureate One Year Later

Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, remains in his prison cell in the northeastern Chinese city of Jinzhou, while the world awaits the announcement of this year’s recipient and the Chinese government grows even more intolerant of dissent.

Liu’s prize famously sat on an empty seat during last year’s award ceremony in Olso, Norway, because the Chinese authorities did not allow him or his family to be in attendance.  Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” when he authored a petition calling for pro-democracy reforms in China.

As for what has changed one year later,  2011 has been marked by the silence of Chinese activists “achieved through disappearance, intimidation and abuse,” Time magazine noted.

Even Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who was placed under severe supervision after he was awarded the prize last year, is still not allowed to communicate with the outside world. Our ABC News crew found out first hand last year when they tried to visit her home. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards had cordoned off the area.

This year also saw the muzzling of outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, who spent almost three months in detention for alleged tax evasion. Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist, and his family, including his 6-year-old daughter, are still not allowed to leave their house despite having already completed a four-year prison term. The daughter is not even allowed to attend school.

Liu’s father passed away in September and, according to an Agence France Presse interview with  Liu’s brother, Liu Xiaoxun, the Chinese authorities, in an unusual act of temporary leniency, allowed Liu out of his cell to attend his father’s memorial.  Liu has also recently been allowed visitors.

His wife visited him in prison in August and his three brothers were allowed a visit earlier this month. Liu Xiaoxuan told AFP that his big brother “was looking very well” but made clear that “it’s not convenient for me to tell you about details of how long Liu Xiaobo stayed at home or what he did.”

The Chinese authorities have been especially sensitive this year to any semblance of dissent, given the events that have been unfolding in the Arab world. There is even new legislation being proposed right now that would make secret detention, without any notice to family members, legal for periods of up to six months in cases of terrorism, state security or serious corruption.  Human rights groups worry that the legislation will be used to quash dissent.

As for China’s displeasure with Norway’s decision to award the Peace Prize to Liu, the AFP also reported today that in the past year, China has continued to voice its protest by targeting Norway’s salmon industry. Chinese customs officials have reportedly placed Norwegian salmon imports under an added level of scrutiny, requiring so many additional inspections that the salmon rotted away in Chinese warehouses.