By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 10, 2010; 6:26 AM
BEIJING - China braced Friday for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo, blocking broadcasts of the ceremony and tightening its grip on activists to prevent them from celebrating the honor in any way.
The Web sites of the BBC, CNN, Britain's Channel 4 and Norwegian television NRK were blocked starting Thursday, preventing live streaming. On Friday, CNN and BBC television broadcasts were on the air for people with satellite dishes, but with intermittent blackouts during some segments.
Various news Web sites remained inaccessible, with a message saying the sites are "temporarily unavailable."
Some Beijing cafe and restaurant owners have been warned by police not to allow any Nobel celebrations or demonstrations at their establishments. One cafe owner, who asked not to be quoted by name, was called to the local police station in the Gulou, or Drum Tower, area and warned that "overseas reactionary forces" might try to "instigate" some actions on Friday night.
China has prohibited Liu and his family members from leaving China to attend Friday's ceremony in Oslo. Nobel committee organizers said the jailed intellectual would be represented by an empty chair - the first time the award will not be presented to a laureate in person since 1936, when Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist jailed by the Nazi regime, was prevented from attending the ceremony.
Instead of a statement from Liu, a piece of his writing will be read aloud by the Norwegian actress and movie director Liv Ullmann, The New York Times reported.
China's Communist government has ratcheted up the rhetoric since the October announcement that the prize would go to Liu, a bespectacled 54-year-old dissident who is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China's northern Liaoning province for "inciting subversion of state power."
Liu was jailed after authoring Charter '08, a pro-democracy manifesto that was published Dec. 10, 2008 and has since been signed by more than 10,000 people inside and outside China.
Foreign embassies in Norway were warned that if they sent representatives to the Nobel ceremony, they would risk unspoken diplomatic "consequences." China broke off trade talks with Norway. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu denounced the Nobel committee members as "clowns" and accused them of "orchestrating an anti-China farce."
As of Dec. 6, the Nobel committee said, 46 countries had announced they would send representatives to the prize ceremony. Fifteen countries--China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba and Morocco--said they would stay away.
The government of Serbia had said it would boycott the ceremony in order to maintain good relations with China, but reversed that stance on Friday in the face of an outcry at home and from the European Union and said it would send an human rights official to witness the event.
"We had to affirm our relation with China and respond to Serbia's interests with regard to the European Union," Human Rights Minister Svetozar Cipliche told the Associated Press. Serbia is a candidate for EU membership.'Universal values'
China has blasted the decision to award the prize to Liu as an unwelcome attempt to impose "Western" values on China. T Nobel committee's chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, responded at a news conference Thursday that the choice of Liu was based instead on a recognition of universal human rights.
"This is not a protest; it is a signal to China that it would be very important for China's future to combine economic development with political reforms and support for those in China fighting for basic human rights," Jagland said. "This prize conveys the understanding that these are universal rights and universal values . . . not Western standards."
The U.S. ambassador to Norway, Barry B. White, was to attend the ceremony, P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said Thursday. Crowley said the United States urges China "to uphold its international rights, human rights . . . and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens," and renewed the U.S. call for Liu's immediate release from prison.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, also pressed China to release Liu and said she was "dismayed" by the recent restrictions China has placed on a "widening circle" of activists and government critics.Domestic crackdown
For all the official Chinese fury that has been directed outward, the fiercest reaction to the peace prize has been internal. Scores of activists, lawyers and professors have been prohibited from leaving the country in recent days, or placed under house arrest, with their telephone and Internet lines cut. As the Nobel ceremony drew closer, some were also told not to speak to reporters.
Mao Yushi, one of China's foremost economists, was prevented from boarding a flight last week to attend an academic conference in Singapore. He and other activists said the crackdown has had one unintended, opposite effect - that of underscoring the need for political reform that Liu was awarded the prize for championing.
"This way of doing things is stupid, and the government actually is losing face by doing it, " Mao said. "I applaud Liu's award. This incident of not allowing me to go abroad just proves why it makes sense that Liu got the award."
A member of the Beijing film academy was prevented from traveling to a film festival in Italy. Lawyers were blocked from attending an International Bar Association meeting in London.
"The more people are barred from leaving the country, and the harder the government works to stifle news of the Nobel ceremony domestically, the more meaning the event takes on for the curious ordinary Chinese," Renee Xia, the international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in an e-mailed statement.
Xia said many of China's 400 million-plus Internet users would find ways to circumvent the government's "Great Firewall" to follow news of the ceremony online.Barred from Beijing
In addition to those barred from leaving China, some activists have been told to leave Beijing - and forcibly taken away when they refused. Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer, said four Beijing security officers forced him into a car and put him on a night flight to his home town of Yanbian.
A previously unknown group with links to China's culture ministry held a hastily called ceremony in a hotel Thursday to award the first "Confucian Peace Prize," which the organizers said was a response to the Nobel to former Taiwanese vice president Lien Chan. Lien's office told reporters he was not aware of the prize.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 402 to 1 Wednesday for a resolution praising Liu. At a briefing Thursday, Jiang, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that U.S. lawmakers should "change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude."
Staff writers Colum Lynch at the United Nations and Debbi Wilgoren in Washington, and researchers Liu Liu in Beijing and Wang Juan in Shanghai contributed to this report.