The Nobel Committee honored Chinese literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo Friday with the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. In awarding the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee not only recognizes his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights," but also signals a rebuke of Chinese officials' intolerance toward domestic dissent.
Liu, perhaps China's most well-known dissident, has been repeatedly jailed for his activism. He is currently serving an 11-year term on subversion charges in a jail cell 300 miles from Beijing. The prize likely provides a significant boost in morale for China's reform movement and Liu's fellow advocates who have been peacefully protesting the Chinese Communist Party for the last two decades.
But news of the award was blocked from Chinese citizens as government censors worked overtime in expunging Liu's name from all media outlets. The country's state-owned news station and papers not only blocked coverage of the award, but the country also blacked out commercial stations like CNN during their reports on Liu. The so-called "Great Firewall" of China also blocked Internet news sites and search engines such as Google which mentioned "Nobel Prize" of "Liu Xiaobo."
Authorities also forced Liu's wife, Liu Xia, from her home to keep her from the media.
As Liu's name quickly became a trending topic on Twitter around the world, it was blocked in China. One Chinese citizen tweeted, "My SIM card just got de-activated, turning my iPhone into an iPod touch after I texted my dad about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize." The message, however, was only visible to users outside of China.
In addition to its censorship efforts, the Chinese government also lashed out at the Norwegian Nobel Committee:
"Liu Xiabo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. Awarding the prize to Liu runs contrary to the principals of the Nobel Peace Prize," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.
"The fact that Nobel Committee awarded the peace prize to such a person also lowers the peace prize itself."
But the Nobel Committee condemned the Chinese government ignoring its citizens' basic rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. “In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens,” committee members said, adding, “China’s new status must entail increased responsibility.”
President Barack Obama also weighed in on the debate Friday, calling on China to release Liu. Obama praised China's "dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty." But, he added, "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."