BEIJING // A jailed Chinese human rights campaigner was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in a highly controversial decision by the awards committee, which defied earlier calls from Beijing for him to be blacklisted.
Liu Xiaobo, sentenced last year to 11 years behind bars for incitement to subvert state power, was selected for trying by nonviolent means to promote democratic reforms in his home country.
China reacted angrily, with state media reports saying the Nobel committee had "desecrated" the prize and warning that ties with Norway, where the peace prize is based, would suffer.
Ragnhild Imserslund, the Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the Norwegian ambassador to China, Svein Saether, was called in to China's foreign ministry. And in Oslo, the Chinese ambassador to Norway met with Erik Lahnstein, a state secretary at Norway's foreign ministry.
She said both meetings occurred at China's request to express its discontent with the peace prize decision.
However, human rights groups and western leaders, including last year's winner Barack Obama, the US president, called for the 54-year-old dissident's release.
In a statement, the Nobel committee said Mr Liu had been chosen "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China".
Mr Liu was described by the committee's president, Thorbjoern Jagland, as being "the foremost symbol of the wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China".
In contrast to some Chinese dissidents, Mr Liu has advocated only peaceful means to encourage the political reforms that China has resisted introducing despite three decades of economic liberalisation.
Amid speculation he might win the award, Mr Liu had gained the support of Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic, whose Charter 77 call for human rights helped to spark the Velvet Revolution that ended communist rule in 1989 and in turn inspired Mr Liu's own Charter 08.
Mr Liu was arrested in December 2008 just before this document, a call for greater political freedom in China, was due to be published. A year later he was given 11 years in jail for inciting subversion of state power, a charge linked to the document and other political freedom literature.
In choosing Mr Liu, the Nobel committee also cited his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that sparked a bloody crackdown. Mr Liu persuaded some students to leave the square, and was later jailed for his involvement in the protests.
Reacting to yesterday's announcement, Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said Mr Liu was a criminal sentenced for violating Chinese law, the official Xinhua news agency reported. "What he has done is contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize," Mr Ma said. The decision to award the prize to Mr Liu "ran contrary to and desecrated the prize", Xinhua reported. China had late last month said Mr Liu should not be chosen for the award.
CNN reported Mr Liu's wife, Liu Xia, was planning yesterday to visit her husband in jail to tell him of his success. "I am totally shocked and feel so happy," she told the network. She said she hoped governments across the world would call for her husband's release, and told Reuters her husband's fellow pro-democracy campaigners had hoped the award would change China.
However, Mr Liu's lawyer said he did not expect his client would be released early because of the news. A small number of pro-democracy campaigners gathered with placards in Beijing yesterday evening, the Associated Press reported.
Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China specialist for Amnesty International, said "there's no earthly justification" for keeping Mr Liu and other pro-democracy campaigners in jail. "We really hope this will give a major boost to Liu Xioabo and many, many others who've been involved for many years in pushing China to a more transparent, democratic and participatory system," she said. "This is a strong message to China that its actions in putting people like Liu Xiaobo in jail are really condemned."
Although giving the prize to Mr Liu has made headlines worldwide, Zhang Baohui, an associate professor in the department of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said the repercussions in China would probably be limited. Many Chinese, he said, would react with anger at what they would see as foreign meddling. "If an international body wants to put pressure, often the Chinese people's sympathies are with their own government. They see it as a western scheme to interfere," he said.
Few people on the streets of the Chinese capital yesterday had heard of Mr Liu, and indeed some criticised the Nobel committee.
Mr Ma, 28, a catering employee who declined to give his first name, said it was "understandable" Mr Liu had been selected, but said he did not think "democracy was going to work" in present-day China. "Chinese people are not ready for democracy yet," he said. "The Chinese people are not educated, we're not as developed as Taiwan. Democracy is for the future, not right now."
Mr Liu is not well known in China, said Zou Huaqiang, 33, a human resources manager originally from Shenzhen, who also had not previously heard of him.
"This is absolutely intervention in China's domestic affairs. We have a judiciary, we have a justice system. It's totally up to us to tell whether a citizen has committed a crime." Giving Mr Liu the prize was, he said, "equal to saying the Chinese government has no legitimacy over this country and the justice system doesn't work".