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Correction to This Article
This article about Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize, incorrectly said that this would be the first year since 1936 that the award would not be presented to a laureate in person. The children of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi accepted the prize on her behalf in 1991. And the last such instance before that, when Adolf Hitler prevented German activist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting his prize, was in 1935, not 1936.
With laureate Liu imprisoned, Nobel presented to empty chair

By Debbi Wilgoren , Keith B. Richburg and Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 11, 2010; A08

OSLO - The blue-and-white upholstered chair reserved for him was empty. His words were spoken not in his own voice but by the Norwegian actress and movie director Liv Ullmann.

While the Nobel committee honored him with its prestigious Peace Prize in Oslo on Friday, Chinese dissident and intellectual Liu Xiaobo sat in isolation in a jail cell, some 4,000 miles away.

Yet his campaign to bring individual freedoms and democracy to China was recognized at a ceremony made more visible, in many ways, by Beijing's efforts to suppress it.

"Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not done anything wrong. He must be released," Nobel committee chairman Torbjorn Jagland said as the audience of more than 1,000 dignitaries, diplomats and officials responded with sustained applause and a standing ovation.

Jagland then placed the medal and certificate, normally awarded to the laureate, in the empty chair upon the stage, triggering another ovation.

An oversize portrait of Liu, 54, had been hung on the stage. At the point in the ceremony where the honoree or a close relative would normally speak, Ullmann read from the final statement Liu made before he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for political incitement.

"I have once again been shoved into the dock by the enemy mentality of the regime," Liu said on Dec. 23, 2009. "But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by [my] convictions. . . . I have no enemies, and no hatred."

Before the ceremony, as attendees lined up outside city hall to enter, a police marching band performed Christmas carols, supporters handed out buttons emblazoned with an illustration of the laureate's smiling face and demonstrators across the street shouted "Free Liu Xiaobo!"

Organizers hope attendees left the ceremony with a more sobering image. "I think they will remember the empty chair," said Nobel committee Secretary Geir Lundestad.

About 100 Chinese dissidents in exile and some activists from Hong Kong attended the ceremony, broadcasts of which were blocked on television and Internet inside China.

In the country of 1.3 billion people, a few dozen pro-democracy activists staged China's sole authorized celebration, uncorking a bottle of champagne Friday outside a huge Hong Kong tower.

Earlier in the evening, several hundred people watched a live broadcast of the Nobel ceremony in Norway on a screen in a central Hong Kong park. It was the only public screening of the event held on Chinese territory.

Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong has a vibrant civil society and still regularly stages protests in defiance of Beijing.

Both the CNN and BBC television channels went blank in Beijing as the event began, and Chinese television news led programs with the latest economic figures and worries over inflation. Also, some text messages containing the words "Liu Xiaobo" and "Nobel prize" were being blocked from delivery.

Chinese Internet users tried to start an online campaign of support for Liu by changing their avatars either to yellow ribbons or empty chairs.

Meanwhile, police in Beijing maintained a heavy presence outside the apartment compound of Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has had her telephone and Internet communications cut off for weeks.

The government prohibited the Lius and their family members from leaving China to attend the ceremony and barred other activists from traveling or even gathering at cafes or public places for fear that they would find a way to celebrate the occasion.

The crackdown triggered outrage and condemnation from around the world. It was the first time the award was not presented to either a laureate or a close family member since 1936, when Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist jailed by the Nazi regime, was honored. The absence of Liu and his family members also meant that the $1.4 million cash prize went uncollected.

China broke off trade talks with Norway after Liu's selection was announced in October. Foreign embassies in Norway were warned that if they sent representatives to the Nobel ceremony, they would risk unspoken diplomatic "consequences."

At least 15 countries - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba and Morocco - vowed to stay away.

In Beijing, the government continued to denounce the prize as a Western plot to destroy China. "We are firmly against attempts by any country or individual to use the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere in China's internal affairs and infringe on China's judicial sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

wilgorend@washpost.com richburgk@washpost.com richards@washpost.com

Staff writer Andrew Higgins in Hong Kong also contributed to this report. Richburg reported from Beijing, and Richards reported from Oslo.

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