Free speech campaigner awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Incarcerated Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been named the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in promoting democracy and human rights in China. Mr Liu first became known during the events in Tiananmen Square, and since then has continued to be outspoken on various human rights issues, including the freedom of expression. Currently Mr Liu is serving an 11 year prison sentence for his co-authorship of Charter 08, a document published in December 2008 which calls for the implementation of universal values and democracy in China.

Mr Liu was awarded the prize despite warnings from China, which has since registered its disagreement with the decision . The Chinese foreign ministry cited the historical purposes of the Peace Prize and claimed that awarding it to Mr Liu runs contrary to the award’s stated purpose: ‘The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to people who “promote national harmony and international friendship, who promote disarmament and peace”…It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the Peace Prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to [Mr Liu].’

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is carried out in accordance with stipulations set out in Alfred Nobel’s will , which states that the award will go to ‘the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses’.

Outside of China, it is little contested that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Liu, with his long history of human rights activism in the face of repeated imprisonment, is a positive thing. Some have noted that China may be right in saying that Mr Liu does not fit the strict criteria for the Peace Prize, and that the decision to give the award to an incarcerated Chinese dissident is politically motivated, but even these critics  have allowed that ‘it does not matter whether the award occasionally goes to someone many consider not (yet) worthy of it. What matters is that once awarded, it invariably becomes news…always generates discussion, and draws attention to the recipient’. In this case, attention on Mr Liu can only serve to remind the international community of the human rights abuses, such as the violation of the right to freedom of speech, that persist in China. Already, in response to the decision, many nations have re-applied pressure on China to release free-speech campaigners such as Mr Liu, and to reconsider its continuing policies that breach or threaten human rights.

 While naming Mr Liu as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize may have strained immediate relations between China and Norway, or China and the Western world, it is to be acknowledged that the work of free-speech and other human rights activists such as Mr Liu speeds the pursuit of the promotion of fraternity between nations, just as Alfred Nobel envisaged.

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