- Helen Pidd
- The Guardian: November 18, 2010
A security guard tries to stop photographs being taken outside the house of the wife of jailed Chinese Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo [Peter Parks/AFP]
The Nobel peace prize may not be handed out this year because China is unlikely to let any of jailed winner Liu Xiaobo‘s family attend the ceremony, a Nobel official announced today, saying that China’s campaign against the award was unprecedented.
Six countries have refused to attend the gala in Oslo on 10 December following pressure from China for a boycott.
Although the pageant itself will go ahead, key aspects of the event – the handover of the Nobel gold medal, a diploma and prize money worth 10m kronor (£1.04m) – are unlikely to be included, the organisers said.
Under Nobel rules, the award can only be collected by the laureate or close family. Liu cannot attend because he is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China’s one-party political system. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest and subject to police escort since the award was announced last month.
Friends say all of Liu’s closest family members are under tight police surveillance aimed at preventing them from attending the ceremony.
China has written to foreign ministries and embassies urging diplomats to stay away from the ceremony in Oslo and warning of “consequences” for those who support the pro-democracy activist.
The six countries who have declined their invitations so far are Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, Iraq and China itself. Ambassadors to Norway from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are also expected to stay away, for varying reasons.
Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel committee, said China had mounted a campaign to persuade diplomats to avoid the ceremony in Oslo, and had returned all mail sent by the committee unopened. “For an embassy to actively try to persuade other embassies to not participate in the ceremony is something new,” Lundestad said.
“I don’t know of any example where a country has so actively and directly tried to have ambassadors stay away from a Nobel ceremony.”
He added: “The big question this year is China, and how China is able to affect the decisions of others,” he said. “Several countries have to check with their home governments. This has become a delicate issue with some governments.”
The Nobel Committee sent invitations to 58 countries with embassies in Norway, and 36 have accepted.
If the medal and prize money are not handed out during the ceremony, it will be the first time since 1936 – when German journalist Carl von Ossietzky was refused permission to leave Nazi Germany.
During the second world war, the Nobel committee did not select any winners.
Lundestad said the committee had not yet ruled someone from Liu’s family being able to attend. “If someone shows up at the last minute, it will not be a problem to change plans,” he said.
Liu Xiaobo has three brothers. A Hong Kong-based human rights group has reported that two of them, as well as Liu Xiaobo’s brother-in-law Liu Tong, have been unable to visit Liu in prison despite repeated requests. His youngest brother, Liu Xiaoxuan, has been told by his employer not to go to Oslo.
China’s reaction to this year’s award is more extreme than that of Soviet leaders during cold war, when close controls were kept on dissent both at home and in eastern Europe.
Even in 1975, Elena Bonner Sakharova was able to accept the prize on behalf of her husband, the physicist Andrei D Sakharov. And in 1983. Danuta Walesa accepted on behalf of her husband, Lech, the Polish trade union activist.