Thorbjoern Jagland, the Nobel Committee president, said that the writer and university professor has been honoured “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China … The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the award should have gone to promoting international friendship and disarmament. “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” it said. Awarding the peace prize to Mr Liu ran “completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize”.
Mr Liu, who is 54, was jailed for 11 years last year for subversion, following the release in 2008 of “Charter 08”, a manifesto for reform signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics and writers.
Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister, congratulated Mr Liu while Amnesty said it hoped the award “will keep the spotlight on the struggle for fundamental freedoms and concrete protection of human rights” in China.
The Chinese government has frequently warned the Norwegian Nobel Committee to steer clear of pro-democracy advocates in general but Mr Jagland insisted that the Nobel Committee had the right to question the human rights record of one of the world’s great powers.
“China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights,” he said, adding that “we have a responsibility to speak when others are unable to speak.”
France added its voice by calling on China to free Mr Liu. Germany also urged China to free Mr Liu to allow him to attend the award ceremony. “The government would like to see him released soon and receive his prize in person. The government has pressed for his release in the past and will continue to do so,” a German government spokesman said.
The dissident’s wife said she was “so excited” that her husband had been awarded the prize. “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I don’t know what to say,” Liu Xia told AFP by telephone.
Mr Liu was a key figure in the pro-democracy student movement in China in 1989, which was brutally crushed by Chinese authorities and culminated in the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He has been detained on several occasions, and in December 2009 was convicted of subversion and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In recent years Chinese dissidents have routinely been named as top candidates for the prestigious Nobel Prize but have not won. In 1989, China was incensed that the Nobel Committee chose the Dalai Lama for the Peace Prize.
Oslo’s fears of a backlash come as Norway and China are in negotiations to forge a bilateral trade agreement.
This year, the Nobel Committee considered a record 237 individuals and organisations for the prize, which carries with it an award of 10 million Swedish kroner (£940,000).
Last year, the Nobel Committee stunned the world and the recipient alike by awarding the honour to Barack Obama, when the US president had been in office for less than nine months. [Nobel Prize via Daily Telegraph (UK), BBC and Bloomberg]