BEIJING—China battened down the hatches and choked off websites that could carry broadcasts of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony Friday — hoping to seal off the country from news honouring jailed Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The last-minute move on the eve of the celebration in Oslo was just the latest in a multi-layered government campaign to stop information on Liu’s Nobel from spreading inside the country.
The dissident’s award has embarrassed and enraged China’s authoritarian leaders. They have vowed vengeance against countries that honour him and mounted a campaign inside China to suppress his supporters.
Activists — including the dissident’s wife Liu Xia — have been put under house arrest, lawyers and academics have been barred from leaving the country to attend, and orders have been issued from the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party on how Chinese news organizations should contain the news.
Chinese diplomats in Oslo have also been busy orchestrating protests against the award Friday — ironically, an activity the Chinese government does not allow in its own country.
At a press briefing in Beijing Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson railed against the Nobel and issued a blistering attack on the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a motion Wednesday calling for the release of Liu and his wife.
“We urge the relevant U.S. lawmakers to . . . change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude and show respect for the Chinese people and China’s judicial sovereignty,” spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters.
Jiang, who earlier this week called the Nobel committee “clowns,” said the award represents only a minority of world opinion.
“The Chinese people and the overwhelming majority of people in the world oppose what they’re doing,” she said “This is not an issue of human rights. It is an issue of interference in our internal affairs.”
She said the Chinese government hoped that countries that received invitations to attend could “tell right from wrong.”
China has bullied a number of Oslo-based foreign embassies from attending the ceremony, promising that they would face “consequences” if they showed up.
Nobel spokesperson Geir Lundestad said this week that the 19 countries that are “unable to attend,” is the highest number in recent memory and probably the highest in history.
But 44 of the 65 embassies in the Norwegian capital will attend, including Canada.
A group of Liu’s supporters who live in democratic countries from which they were free to travel to the ceremony are also expected to turn up.
The 54-year-old Liu, who co-authored a 2008 petition called Charter ’08 calling for democratic reforms in China, is a former university professor who has been a significant force in China’s intellectual circles dating back to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
To keep him relatively unknown to the Chinese public, the government in 1991 banned him from teaching, public speaking or publishing in his own country.
But he continued to publish abroad.
His supporters praise him for his sharp analytical mind, his humane principles, and his lifelong, peaceful pursuit of freedom, democracy and human rights in China.
It was his co-authorship of Charter ’08 which calls for the country’s careful and orderly transition to democracy that landed him in jail — for the fourth time.
China is an authoritarian state in which power resides in the hands of just one party: The Communist Party of China. The executive, legislative and judicial branches of government — even the People’s Liberation Army — must be loyal to the Party.
Liu’s call in Charter ’08 for the government to be accountable to the people rather than the Party was deemed seditious by the Party-controlled courts.
On Christmas Day last year he was sentenced to 11 years in jail on charges of trying to subvert the state.
This week, trying to counter-balance the Nobel Peace Prize, China hastily organized a first-ever “Confucius Peace Award,” holding a news conference with fanfare to announce the winner was retired Taiwanese politician Lien Chan.
But word arrived from Lien’s Taipei office Thursday that Lien had never heard of the award and had no intention of accepting it.
On Friday, both the BBC and Norwegian broadcaster NRK were inaccessible in Beijing, and while CNN could be accessed, some stories on its site about Liu’s Nobel victory were blocked.