Reporting from London and Beijing — The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
The award dealt a resounding slap to the Chinese government, which called the decision a "blasphemy" and warned that relations with Norway would be damaged.
"Liu Xiaobo is a convicted criminal who broke Chinese law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement published on the ministry website. "If the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to such a person, it absolutely disobeyed the spirit of this prize and it is a blasphemy to the prize."
Liu Xiaobo, 54, is serving an 11-year prison sentence and two years' deprivation of political rights in China for inciting subversion of state powers, said Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland when making the announcement.
Speaking in the Nobel institute in Oslo, Jagland said that as China has become the world's second largest economy, it "is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â… concerning political rights."
Jagland added that "the campaign to establish universal human rights ... in China is being waged by many Chinese both in China and abroad. ... Liu has become the foremost symbol for this wide-ranging struggle."
The award came despite Beijing's finest efforts to dissuade the judges from honoring Liu, a 54-year-old writer who has remained unbowed in his decades-long fight for freedom of expression and democratic reform.
BBC reports said that before the announcement, Jagland had told local television he knew he would have to defend the choice. Media reports said the committee had been approached by Chinese authorities who advised against choosing Liu Xiaobo.
A 54-year-old writer who has remained unbowed in his decades-long fight for freedom of expression, Liu Xiaobo was picked from an initial list of 237 contenders put forward in March.
Answering questions after the announcement, Jagland said: "We have a responsibility to speak when others are not able or willing to speak. I think it's very important now to look to the path that China has begun. It has become a very big power in economic as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism...and debate."
As with America's rise to power amid criticism after World War II, he said, so it should be with China's rise to power now.
"We should have the right to criticize and ask what kind of China do we want to have." He said he hoped the peace prize would enhance the debate to the advantage of the global community.
Press reports quoted committee director Geir Lundestad last week saying a Chinese government official had warned him that an award to Liu Xiaobo would affect relations between the two countries.
The Chinese government, perpetually sensitive to slights and embarrassment, now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of imprisoning a Nobel laureate.
In 2008, Liu drafted a document that badly rattled the ruling elite and landed him in prison.
Charter 08 called on the Communist Party to relinquish its singular grip on power and to establish a democracy marked by rule of law and human rights. It had more than 300 signatories across China.
For writing the now-banned manifesto, Liu was convicted of inciting subversion against the state and trying to overthrow the government. He was imprisoned in 2009; he still has nine years left on his sentence.
"The government was using the fist to fight against the tongue," said Li Datong, a journalist who was among the government critics who signed Charter 08.
Amnesty International welcomed the choice. "Liu Xiaobo is a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize," said Catherine Baber, the group's deputy Asia-Pacific director. "We hope it will keep the spotlight on the struggle for fundamental freedoms and concrete protection of human rights that Liu Xiaobo and many other activists in China are dedicated to.
"This award can only make a real difference if it prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression."
Reporters Without Borders, which advocates press freedom, posted its reaction on the group's website, calling the decision of "historic significance for China's free speech movement." They called it "a message of hope for the laureate who is serving an 11-year jail sentence, for detained dissidents all over the world, and for the Chinese people."
The group also saw it "as a lesson for all the democratic governments that too often bow to pressure from Beijing."