x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

China cries foul as Xiaobo gets Nobel Peace award

The communist government calls the decision a "political farce" as it blocks media coverage and access to the activist's relatives and friends.

BEIJING // China again denounced on Friday the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, saying it was a "political farce" that did not represent the majority of the world, especially not developing nations.

"We resolutely oppose any country or any person using the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere with China's internal affairs or infringe upon China's legal sovereignty," the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement on the ministry's website.

The imprisoned Liu was honoured in his absence by the head of the Nobel Committee as he placed the Peace Prize diploma and gold medal on an empty chair. "We regret that the laureate is not present here today," Thorbjoern Jagland said.

China has repeatedly slammed the recognition of a man it calls "a subversive and a criminal."

It tightened a wide-ranging clampdown on dissidents and blocked some news websites and television channels, just ahead of the prize ceremony for the activist.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers guarded the entrance to the compound in central Beijing where Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has lived under house arrest since the October announcement that her husband would receive the prize.

BBC and CNN went dark in China after both stations switched to live coverage as the ceremony began in Oslo. Several dozen journalists at Liu's home were herded away by police to a cordoned-off area.

Liu Xia's phone and Internet connections have been cut off, and friends, family and colleagues in the country's embattled dissident community have been placed under house arrest or tight surveillance.

For weeks Liu has been prevented from leaving, receiving visitors or communicating with the outside world, but security was visibly tighter on Friday. Police cars were positioned on every surrounding corner and officers patrolled outside the apartment block. There was no sign of life at the apartment windows.

Guards checked the identities of all who entered, while about a dozen journalists stood just outside the gate keeping watch.

Several in the community, including renowned artist Ai Weiwei and human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, have been barred from leaving the country, apparently out of fear they might attend Friday's award ceremony in Norway's capital.

The imprisoned Liu will be represented by an empty chair in Oslo, and because no one close to him can receive it, the award will not be handed out for the first time since the 1930s.

Before being escorted to the southwestern province of Yunnan, Zhang Xianliang, the mother of a high school student killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, told The Associated Press she had been shadowed by four plainclothes agents who incessantly demanded she leave Beijing.

"They have become crazy. This is unprecedented. I have never been so threatened in the last 20 years," Zhang said.

Activist lawyer Jiang Tianyong said he managed to evade security agents. "We will be unable to watch the ceremony today, unable to see Liu Xiaobo or his wife Liu Xia picking up the award. But no matter what, history always goes forward and there will still be people celebrating this great historical moment," he said in a Skype interview.

The vilification campaign has rocketed Liu from relative obscurity to worldwide fame despite the communist leadership's desire to negate his influence with an 11-year prison sentence for sedition. The term - Liu's fourth period of incarceration since 1989 - was handed down after he co-authored a bold appeal for human rights and multiparty democracy known as Charter 08.

"The prize has become so political," said Peking University student Grace Lee. "It's supposed to be for people who struggle for peace, not people who cause conflict between countries."