BEIJING About 200 Chinese dissidents and rights advocates called the Nobel Peace Prize for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo a "splendid choice" that should push China to embrace democratic reform, challenging a clampdown on dissent.
The statement urged authorities to "immediately release the people who have been illegally detained" after Liu, serving an 11-year jail term for advocating democratic reform, received the prize and the ruling Communist Party moved to squash any efforts to voice support for him and his demands.
"Liu Xiaobo is a splendid choice for the Nobel Peace Prize," said the statement. "He has persevered in pursuing the goals of democracy and constitutional government and has set aside anger even towards those who persecute him...
"In a recent series of speeches, Premier Wen Jiabao has intimated a strong desire to promote political reform. We are ready to engage actively in such an effort."
Despite Wen's comments over the past few months, the government has shown little sign of loosening its tight controls or the rule of the stability-obsessed Communist Party.
A group of retired Chinese reformist officials, including a former secretary to Mao Zedong, earlier this week in an open letter urged the government to respect freedom of speech.
A closed-door Party meeting which began in Beijing on Friday is expected to focus economic issues rather than specifically political ones.
Several signers of the petition said it was unlikely to move the Chinese government. But the statement shows that Beijing, wary of any challenges to Party control, will continue facing troublesome protests from supporters of Liu.
"It may not have any impact on them, but we're signing it for the sake of our own conscience," said Li Datong, a former journalist who signed the petition. "That is also important, to show that we can stand by what we believe in."
China says Liu is a criminal, and that giving him the prize was an "obscenity." The award has strained China's ties with Norway, home to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, even though the government there has no say in who receives it.
Xu Youyu, who helped write the statement, said some of the signers had already been warned or questioned by their employers.
"I don't think we're expecting any concessions on this now, but in the long-term I'm more hopeful that acts like this can make a difference," Xu said by telephone.
Another signatory, the Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, said it was insulting for the government to cast foreign supporters of Liu as lacking respect for Chinese law.
"In fact, it's the Communist Party that lacks respect for the law. For them to turn around and accuse others of that is absurd and shameless," Pu said.
Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has been held under virtual house arrest since the prize was announced. Other activists have complained of harassment, and world leaders have urged China to release Liu.
"We ask that legal procedures aimed at freeing Liu Xiaobo be undertaken without delay, and that Liu and his wife be permitted to travel to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize," the dissidents wrote in their open letter, circulated on-line.
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