BEIJING // Five former Nobel Peace Prize winners have called for the release of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese democracy activist who was awarded the accolade a year ago.
The South African anti-apartheid campaigner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is one of the laureates to say that Mr Liu should be freed amid concern that the international community "seems to have forgotten" the dissident is behind bars "under harsh conditions".
Yesterday, the eve of Human Rights Day, the campaign group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), branded 2011 a "dismal" year following a crackdown on activists by the Chinese authorities, who were concerned the unrest that swept the Middle East and North Africa could be replicated at home.
Tawakkul Karman was one of three women who shared the Nobel Peace Prize award this year. She was awarded the prize for her role in Yemen's protest movement. Ms Karman and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, along with the peace activist Leyma Gbowee, also from Liberia, will receive their medals at a ceremony today.
A year ago, the ceremony featured the Nobel citation and medal placed on an empty chair, symbolising Mr Liu's detention and that no representative was allowed to travel from China to collect the award.
Mr Liu, 55, is serving an 11-year jail term for subversion, handed down two years ago after he co-authored a pro-democracy manifesto, Charter 08.
Joining the Nobel Peace Prize laureates on the committee formed to campaign for Mr Liu's release is the former Czech president, Vaclav Havel.
"The committee calls on all those committed to freedom of thought and opinion to join the committee in its efforts to obtain the release of Liu Xiaobo," the committee said in a widely reported statement.
Renee Xia, CHRD's international director, said the Chinese authorities had reacted in a "fearful and panicked" way to the selection of Mr Liu for the Nobel Peace Prize in late 2010, and to the Arab Spring uprisings by clamping down on activists.
The group said 2011 was "one of the worst years in recent memory" in China for human rights, alleging that campaigners had been harassed and subjected to torture.
"The world should pay attention to the Chinese government's human rights hypocrisy of having made commitments to human rights on the world stage, but acting in contrary to these commitments at home," Ms Xia said.
Dozens of activists in China have been arrested this year as the authorities feared Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" and other unrest in the Middle East and North Africa could embolden Chinese pro-democracy movements.
Attempts earlier this year to hold protests in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities inspired by the uprisings were quickly stifled by a heavy police presence.