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Chinese dissident who spent time in Hawaii wins Nobel Peace Prize

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    Pro-democracy protesters hold the picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with Chinese words 'Release Liu Xiaobo' during a demonstration outside the China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong Friday. Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for using non-violence to demand fundamental human rights in his homeland.
    In this photo taken in November, 2007 and released by Liu Xiaobo's friend Friday, Liu poses during a gathering in Beijing. Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for using non-violence to demand fundamental human rights in his homeland.

BEIJING — Imprisoned Chinese democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo on Friday won the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that drew furious condemnation from the authoritarian government and calls from world leaders including President Barack Obama for Liu’s quick release.

Chinese state media blacked out the news and Chinese government censors blocked Nobel Prize reports, which highlighted Liu’s calls for peaceful political change, from Internet websites. China declared the decision would harm its relations with Norway and promptly summoned Oslo’s ambassador to Beijing to make a formal protest.

This year’s peace prize followed a long tradition of honoring dissidents around the world and was the first Nobel for China’s dissident community since it resurfaced after the Communists launched economic but not political reforms three decades ago.

Liu, 54, was sentenced last year to 11 years in prison for subversion. The Nobel committee said he was the first to be honored while still in prison, although other Nobel winners have been under house arrest, or imprisoned before the prize.

Liu, the main author of Charter 08 — an impassioned call for more freedom and human rights in China — was a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the Spring of 1989, but left Hawaii when university students in China began democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

Liu is credited with saving the lives of many of the students by persuading them to leave before Chinese army tanks rolled into the square on June 4, 1989.

Liu spent 20 months in jail for his role in the Tiananmen protests.

The Nobel committee praised Liu’s pacifist approach, ignoring threats by Chinese diplomats even before the announcement that such a decision would result in strained ties with Norway. Liu has been an ardent advocate of peaceful, gradual political change.

The Nobel committee cited Liu’s participation in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 and the Charter 08 document he recently co-authored.

The manifesto, which also urges a peaceful end to one-party rule in China, 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 democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer,” it says.

Roger Ames, a philosophy professor at UH Manoa, hosted Liu in Hawaii from January through March of 1989, where the former Beijing Normal University professor participated in graduate seminars in philosophy and Chinese studies. Ames remembers a passionate, strong-willed man with deeply held beliefs.

Ames said he is not surprised that Liu was willing to go to jail rather than compromise.

“He’s somebody who is trying to move things ahead by peaceful means,” Ames said. “He’s an impassioned, single-minded representative of a different vision for China than the government has.”

Ames said Liu favored Western ideas over traditional Chinese philosophies. He recalled a heated argument between a UH faculty member and Liu during a lecture Liu gave comparing Daoism and Nietzscheanism.

Liu’s visit to Hawaii came during a turning point in his life — his first trip outside of China. It came in between stints as a visiting scholar at the University of Oslo and Columbia University.

Liu’s writings became more political during his time abroad.

UH faculty are also active in the effort to get the Chinese government to free Liu.

UH law school professor Alison Conner is among a number of scholars, lawyers and human rights activists who have lobbied the Chinese government to release Liu.

“He’s advocated peaceful change, democracy by peaceful means,” she said. “I think the way he was tried is just terrible.”

Chinese authorities would not allow access to Liu on Friday, and it was not clear if he had been told about the award.

His wife, however, expressed joy at the news. Surrounded by police at their Beijing apartment, Liu Xia was not allowed out to meet reporters.

But she issued a statement through Freedom Now, a Washington-based rights group, saying she was grateful to the Nobel committee.

“It is a true honor for him and one for which I know he would say he is not worthy,” she said, thanking former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and two former Nobel Peace Prize winners — Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu — for nominating her husband.

“I hope that the international community will take this opportunity to call on the Chinese government to press for my husband’s release,” she said.

Liu Xia planned to go Saturday to deliver the news to Liu at his prison, 300 miles  from Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry quickly criticized the Nobel decision, saying the award should been used instead to promote international friendship and disarmament.

“Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement. Honoring him “runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and also desecrates the peace prize.”

In Oslo, China’s ambassador to Norway met with a state secretary at Norway’s Foreign Ministry, ministry spokeswoman Ragnhild Imerslund said.

The Norwegian officials explained that the peace prize committee is independent of the government and that Norway wants to maintain good relations with China, Imerslund said.

Ma’s statement was later read on the state television channel intended for broadcast overseas.

In China, broadcasts of the announcement by CNN were blacked out. Popular Internet sites removed coverage of the Nobel prizes, placed prominently in recent days for the science awards. Messages about “Xiaobo” to Sina Microblog, a Twitter-like service run by Internet portal, were quickly deleted. Attempts to send mobile text messages with the Chinese characters for Liu Xiaobo failed.

The Nobel committee said China, as a growing economic and political power, needed to take more responsibility for protecting the rights of its citizens.

“China has become a big power in economic terms as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism,” prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said, calling Liu Xiaobo a symbol for the fight for human rights in China.

More than a dozen friends and supporters of Liu gathered near the entrance to Ditan Park in central Beijing, holding up placards congratulating him. They shouted “Long Live Freedom of Speech, Long Live Democracy” and wore yellow ribbons on their clothes to signify, they said, their wish that he be freed.

The small group of demonstrators was later taken away by police. Liu is almost unknown in China except among political activists.

Ru Shengtao, 38, a migrant worker with several large bags of cement strapped on his motorbike, stopped to see what the group was shouting about. He said he’d never heard of Liu and didn’t believe anyone jailed for a crime in China should be receiving an international award for peace.

“If the person who won got it because he opposed the government, then I don’t think it’s good,” he said. “People who defy the Chinese government should not get this prize and if they do, it’s because people overseas are trying to split China.”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told national broadcaster NRK he saw no grounds for China to punish Norway as a country for the award.

“I think that would be negative for China’s reputation in the world, if they chose to do that,” Stoltenberg said.

Other dissidents to win the peace prize include German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in 1983 and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.

Several previous peace laureates have been unable to accept the prize in person because of restrictions imposed by their governments, including Sakharov and Walesa.

Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 prize and has been detained 15 of the past 21 years, is due to be released from house arrest Nov. 13, a week after Myanmar’s first elections in two decades. Suu Kyi’s political party won the last elections in 1990 but the ruling junta never allowed it to take power.

President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, which this year carries a cash award of about $1.5 million.

“Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I,” Obama said today. “That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs.”

The president praised China for its stunning 30 years of transformative economic growth. “But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected,” Obama said.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the awards in his 1895 will. He left only vague instructions, dedicating the peace prize to people who have worked for “fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Star-Advertiser reporter Craig Gima contributed to this story. Associated Press reporters Karl Ritter, Scott McDonald, Bjoern H. Amland and Anna and Alexa Olesen in Beijing also contributed to this report.

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