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Liu Xiaobo: jailed Chinese intellectual sought change

world Updated: Dec 08, 2010 10:11 IST

AFP
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Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner to be honoured on Friday at an award ceremony in Oslo, has been a vocal champion for greater democracy and human rights protection in China for decades.

The 54-year-old, who was previously jailed for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in December to 11 more years in prison for subversion -- a punishment that earned international condemnation.

Liu was arrested in late 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a widely circulated petition that called for political reform in the Communist-ruled nation.

The bold manifesto, which has been signed by more than 10,000 people since it went online, calls for the protection of basic human rights and the reform of China's one-party system.

"The government opposes (giving him the peace prize) because they fear that it will draw more attention to Liu Xiaobo and to China's situation (on democracy and human rights)," his wife, Liu Xia, told AFP in October, after he was honoured by the Nobel committee.

"If they didn't fear this, then they would not have sentenced him to 11 years for writing an essay," said Liu Xia, who was placed under house arrest at the time of the announcement and has been incommunicado for weeks.

Charter 08 specifically demands the abolition of subversion as an offence in China's criminal code -- the very crime for which Liu has been jailed.

"We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision," the manifesto says.

"We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes."

Liu is also known for his efforts to help negotiate the safe exit from Tiananmen Square of thousands of student demonstrators on the night of June 3, 1989 when the military quelled six weeks of protests in the heart of Beijing.

He was arrested immediately after the crackdown and released without charge in early 1991.

Liu was rearrested and served three years in a labour camp from 1996-1999 for seeking the release of those jailed in the Tiananmen protests and for opposing the government's verdict that they amounted to a counter-revolutionary rebellion.

The holder of a doctorate in Chinese literature, Liu was once a professor at Beijing Normal University, but was banned from teaching at state institutions over his involvement in the 1989 demonstrations.

As a leading member of the Independent China Pen Centre, a grouping of Chinese writers, Liu had remained in close contact with key intellectuals and had been largely free to attend meetings and writer group activities despite constant police surveillance.

Although Liu has been banned from publishing in China, many of his writings advocating greater democracy and respect for human rights have appeared in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese publications.

Some of these writings, which can be downloaded from the Internet inside China, served as evidence in his most recent trial, rights groups said.

Liu continues to command great respect from ordinary Chinese intellectuals, a fact that some say was central to the Communist Party's decision to bring charges against him.

Since his arrest, Western governments, rights groups, scholars, and a coalition of Nobel Prize winners have repeatedly called for his release.

Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the prestigious Nobel peace prize. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, won the award in 1989.

Liu is also one of only three people to have been awarded the prize while being jailed by their own government. The other two are Myanmar's Aung Sang Suu Kyi in 1991 and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935.

Following the Nobel announcement, calls for his release were renewed, led by last year's peace laureate, US President Barack Obama. Washington has also called on Beijing to lift its house arrest of Liu Xia.

Liu has been honoured by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and other rights groups. His essay "The Noble Paradise of Power, the Hell for the Meek" won the Hong Kong Human Rights News Prize in 2004.

Liu and his wife do not have children.