The jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle for human rights, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
He was honoured "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," the Norwegian Nobel Committee president, Thorbjoern Jagland, said in his announcement. "The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace," he added.
China's most prominent dissident, Mr Liu, 54, has been a thorn in the government's side since 1989 when he joined student protesters on a hunger strike days before the army crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement. Mr Liu was jailed for 11 years on Christmas Day last year for campaigning for political freedoms, with the stiff sentence on a subversion charge swiftly condemned by rights groups, Washington and many European governments.
Mr Liu has been among the most combative critics of China's one-party rule, and his public comments have frequently riled the government, which insists China is a country with rule of law and which respects fundamental human rights. "Using the law to promote rights can only have a limited impact when the judiciary is not independent," Mr Liu told Reuters in 2006, when he was under another period of house arrest, in comments typical of those which have angered Beijing.
He helped organise the "Charter 08" petition, which called for sweeping political reforms and was modelled on the Charter 77 petition, which became the rallying call for the human rights movement in communist Czechoslovakia in 1977. Mr Liu had been put forward for the peace prize by Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and a key Charter 77 figure who became president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism, and by the US chapter of rights group International Pen.
Mr Liu's wife, Liu Xia, told Reuters in an interview earlier this week that while his spirits were good, his health was not great. She said she had last seen him on September 7. "Liu Xiaobo's friends often tell me they wanted him to get the prize more than he did, because they think this is an opportunity to change China," she said. He stood quietly in a Beijing courtroom last year as a judge found him guilty of "inciting subversion of state power" for his role in the petition and for online essays critical of the ruling Communist Party.
Mr Liu was not allowed to respond in court to the sentence. "He says whatever is on his mind," said Pu Zhiqiang, a friend of Liu's and a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer. "I don't think a Nobel prize for Xiaobo or any other Chinese person would have a huge impact upon China's human rights situation. But it would certainly spur more people to fight for these values, as much as they possibly can," Mr Pu sidd.
This is not Mr Liu's first experience of jail. A former literature professor, he was jailed for 20 months after the army crushed the Tiananmen protests and then spent three years in a "labour re-education" camp during the 1990s, as well as months under virtual house arrest.