Contender for Nobel prize is in Chinese prison

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 8:12 PM

BEIJING -- When the police came for Liu Xiaobo on a December night nearly two years ago, they didn't tell the dissident author why he was being taken away again. The line in the detention order for his "suspected crime" was left blank.

But Liu and the dozen officers who crowded into his dark Beijing apartment knew the reason. He was hours from releasing Charter 08, the China democracy movement's most comprehensive call yet for peaceful reform. The document would be viewed by the ruling Communist Party as a direct challenge to its 60-year monopoly on political power.

Liu, who over the past two decades had endured stints in prison and re-education camp, looked at the blank detention notice and lost his temper.

"At that moment, I knew the day I was expecting had finally come," his wife, Liu Xia, said recently as she recounted the night of Dec. 8, 2008. Thinking of the Beijing winter, she said she brought him a down coat and cigarettes. The police took the cigarettes away.

Liu was sentenced last Christmas Day to 11 years in prison for subversion. The 54-year old literary critic is now a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize - in what would be a major embarrassment to the Chinese government.

He is the best shot the country's dissident movement has had in winning the prestigious award since it began pushing for democratic change after China's authoritarian leaders launched economic, but not political, reforms three decades ago.

Last year the prize was won by President Barack Obama. Other contenders for this year's prize include Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

In an indication of Beijing's unease, China's deputy foreign minister has warned the Nobel Institute not to give the prize to a Chinese dissident, the director of the Norway-based institute said this week. In another sign of official disapproval, an editorial on Thursday in the state-run Global Times newspaper called Liu a radical and separatist.

Chinese police continue to threaten and question some of the more than 300 people who were the first to sign Charter 08, which was co-authored by Liu. Despite the risk, thousands more have signed it since its release.

Charter 08 is an echo of Charter 77, the famous call for human rights in then-Czechoslovakia that led to the 1989 Velvet Revolution that swept away the communist regime. The charter for China calls for more freedoms and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance. "The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer," it says.

Former peace prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Charter 77 co-drafter Vaclav Havel have joined those calling for Liu to get the award. Scholars inside and outside China have mounted letter-writing campaigns on his behalf.

"If I were the Chinese Communist Party, I would free him now. Release him. Now. So you don't have the humiliation and it's good for everyone," said Jean-Philippe Beja, a China scholar at the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research and a longtime friend of Liu.

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