October 8, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Free speech activist Liu Xiaobo awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Reporters Without Borders is deeply moved by the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo. This decision by Norway’s Nobel Committee is a gesture of historic significance for China’s free speech movement. We see it as a message of hope for the laureate, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence, for detained dissidents all over the world, and for the Chinese people.

The Chinese government’s threats of reprisals failed to intimidate the Nobel Committee and the Norwegian authorities. It is a lesson for all the democratic governments that too often bow to pressure from Beijing.

Our thoughts are with Liu himself, who has been unjustly imprisoned for peacefully expressing his views, and for his wife, who is alone in Beijing, deprived of her husband’s company.

When awarded the Reporters Without Borders prize for press freedom defenders in 2004, Liu wrote in message: “Even if the party decrees harsher and harsher laws against the Internet and the control technologies never stop improving, they will never be able to completely control or censor the Internet.”

Liu Xiaobo – the challenge of free speech

A former Beijing university philosopher professor, Liu refuses to give up on the idea that the Chinese media will one day be able to operate as a real fourth estate and stand up to the omnipotent Communist Party. So he has tenaciously fought for the universal principle of press freedom, called for the release of imprisoned journalists and dissidents, and published essays on the Internet or in Hong Kong and diaspora newspapers. All this at the risk of his own freedom.

He spent two years in prison after publicly defending the student-led democracy movement in June 1989. He was also sentenced to three years of reeducation through work in 1996 for questioning the role of the single party. In May 2004, the political police cut his Internet connection and his phone line after he wrote an essay criticising the use of the charge of “subversion” against journalists and dissidents. When not in prison, he continues to live in Beijing, where the authorities systematically refuse to give him a passport despite repeated invitations from US universities. Liu has also been one of the leaders of the Association of Independent Writers, the only one of its kind in China.

Arrested in December 2008, Liu spent nearly a year in prison before being formally charged with subversion on 12 December 2009. Dozens of foreign journalists, foreign diplomats and Liu supporters were kept away from the courthouse when he was tried 11 days later. He was sentenced on Christmas Day 2009 to 11 years in prison on a charge of subverting state authority for posting outspoken articles online and for helping to draft Charter 08, a call for democratic reform.

Inspired by Charter 77, the charter circulated by Czechoslovak dissidents in 1977, Charter 08 was released on 8 December 2008, two days before the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Originally signed by some 300 intellectuals and human rights activists, it now has more than 10,000 signatures.

In an article for Reporters Without Borders in March 2004, Liu wrote: “The electronic media within China and abroad help to break through the censorship imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (…) In this interplay of prohibition, response and further prohibition, the people’s space for expression is growing millimetre by millimetre. The more the people advance, the more the authorities retreat. The time is not far when the frontier of censorship may be crossed and the people will publicly demand free expression.”