BEIJING (Reuters) - China is conducting a sweeping crackdown on dissent before Friday’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, casting the net wide to prevent friends and family attending the ceremony in Oslo.
Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for subversion. His wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest. Even family members of little-known dissidents have been prevented from leaving China.
Lu Yuegang, who lost his job in 2006 at the China Youth Daily after a supplement was banned over provocative content, said his wife had been stopped from travelling to Hong Kong.
“Nobody has given a reason. She goes to Hong Kong regularly for work. We think it’s probably to do with the Liu Xiaobo issue,” Lu told Reuters.
In the frozen northern region of Inner Mongolia, police have detained the wife of one of China’s longest-serving political prisoners, Hada, ahead of his expected release on Friday.
Police have pressured Hada’s son Uiles to cut off ties with his parents, promising him “a nice job, beautiful house and even a pretty girlfriend if he agrees,” according to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre.
“A number of upcoming sensitive events that will simultaneously take place on December 10, including Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize award, Hada’s release, and the United Nations Human Rights Day celebration, are making the Chinese authorities extremely nervous,” the group’s Enghebatu Togochog told Reuters.
About 150 Chinese pro-democracy activists living outside mainland China and several lawmakers from Hong Kong were due to travel to Oslo for the award ceremony.
“Sadly, nobody from China will witness this celebration,” Yang Jianli, a U.S.-based Chinese dissident and friend of Liu, told Reuters in Oslo. “The government made people disappear (under house arrest) and nobody is allowed to leave (China).”
Last week, Chinese police prevented prominent artist Ai Weiwei from flying to South Korea on grounds of endangering state security, a move he said was linked to the peace prize ceremony.
“It just shows the world that China does not respect its own laws,” said Ai, whose public comments, activities and art are some of the most defiant in China.
Rights group Amnesty International estimates that more than 200 people have either been stopped from going abroad, detained or put under house arrest ahead of the ceremony.
Awarded the peace prize in October, Liu, 54, was jailed for 11 years last Christmas Day for organising a petition, Charter 08, calling for greater political rights in China.
In a preface to a collection of essays by Liu, Bao Tong, the former secretary and aide of purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, wrote that Charter 08 was “the only way to a modern and civilised society in China.”
“Some people have accused Liu Xiaobo and the rest of us who have signed Charter 08 of ‘subverting the People’s Republic of China,’” wrote Bao, who remains under tight police surveillance in Beijing after being imprisoned for seven years for sympathising with protesters on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“But what is a republic? A republic is a form of government that puts the political rights of its citizens above all others,” he wrote. “This is also the purpose of Charter 08. We are resolved to protect the republic, not to subvert her.”
This year will be the first time a laureate or his or her representative is not formally represented at the Oslo awards gala since Nazi Germany barred pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from going in 1935.
Beijing has pressured diplomats to boycott the ceremony, claiming the “vast majority” of nations would do so. The Norwegian award committee says two-thirds of those invited would attend.
China has branded Liu a criminal and subversive and denounced his award as an “obscenity.”
“The government seems genuinely to believe this Nobel Peace Prize is a global plot against China,” said one China-based diplomat.
China sees the award as a negation of the dramatic changes that have taken place since it decided to reform and open to the outside world in the late 1970s, said Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies.
“If anyone says that the Chinese people do not enjoy much, much greater human rights today compared with three decades ago, they are fooling themselves,” Gao said. “China actually considers itself to be a major force for peace in the world.”
Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Although Beijing tries to cast Liu Xiaobo as an unknown, isolated dissident, the Chinese leadership is well aware that Liu’s ideas ... are not far removed from the common aspirations of ordinary Chinese people who want a government that at a minimum respect its own laws and allows a greater amount of press and internet freedom.”
U.S.-based dissident Yang said China treated Liu’s award as an “insult or confrontation” while it was meant to encourage all sides to “move forward with more political openness.”
China will award its answer to the peace prize on Thursday, giving a newly created “Confucius Peace Prize” to a former Taiwan vice-president.
Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Maxim Duncan, Benjamin Kang Lim, Michael Martina and Wojciech Moskwa; Editing by Janet Lawrence