In a “disgraceful” act of censorship, the Chinese authorities have deployed major technical and human resources to prevent the Chinese public from learning that the jailed dissident intellectual Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Reporters Without Borders said.
TV and radio stations, newspapers and websites have completely ignored what is an historic news item for China. The Propaganda Department issued an order to all the Chinese media forbidding them to report the Nobel Committee’s decision.
This frenzied censorship and propaganda effort confirms the importance of Liu’s peaceful struggle for free expression in China. Overwhelmed by the hopes raised by Liu’s Nobel, the authorities have responded in time-honoured fashion with a news blackout. It is an insult to the universality of the Nobel Peace Prize.
No report about Liu is to be seen on the home pages of the leading Chinese news websites such as Sina or Sohu. Some results referring to Liu’s Nobel can be obtained on the Baidu search engine, but access to the actual web pages is usually blocked. The government television station CCTV said nothing about Liu and instead opened its evening news programme with a report about rain in Hainan Island.
The broadcasts of foreign satellite TV stations such as CNN are blocked as soon as they start to mention Liu’s Nobel. Dozens of foreign reporters have been turned away by police as they try to approach Liu’s home in Beijing.
It is impossible to send an SMS message containing the characters for Liu Xiaobo or Nobel Prize. The microblogging website Weibo is also being censored. But on Twitter, which is blocked in China, thousands of enthusiastic messages have been posted urging people to eat salmon to thank Norway, to display signs at the back of their cars or otherwise celebrate Liu’s prize. Journalists have also posted messages on Twitter saying they are crying for joy, while the renowned artist Ai Weiwei said it was the happiest day for China in 60 years.
Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest at their Beijing home. The police at their home have forbidden her to give interviews but she has expressed her joy on Twitter. She said that the police planned to take her to the Liaoning province prison where her husband is held, and that she would like to go to Norway to receive the prize on her husband’s behalf. She also said the prize was a homage that Liu shares with Hu Jia, a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee who is also in prison.
Police meanwhile arrested 20 human rights activists yesterday outside Ditan park, where they were publicly celebrating Liu’s Nobel. Students also gathered in Tiananmen Square brandishing Chinese flags. Some of them were also reportedly arrested.
The Chinese foreign ministry said: “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal convicted under the Chinese judicial system because he broke Chinese laws.”
United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay welcomed “this recognition of the very important role human rights defenders play in China.” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said he hoped Liu would now be released quickly so that he could receive the prize in person. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the decision to award the prize to Liu was a message to Beijing about human rights.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel, a leading promoter of Liu’s nomination, said Liu was “exactly the type of a politically committed person to whom the Nobel prize should go.” US President Barak Obama, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, also hailed the news and urged Beijing to free Liu.