Chinese authorities are warning the family and friends of jailed democracy activist Liu Xiaobo against traveling to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on his behalf and have stepped up a campaign to discourage other governments from sending representatives to the investiture ceremony on Dec. 10.
As a result of the expected absence of Mr. Liu's family from the ceremony, the Nobel Committee is unlikely to hand out the peace prize this year. This would be the first time the committee has chosen not to present the prize since Adolf Hitler barred German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting it in 1936.
Mr. Liu was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." He took part in the pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 and was a lead author behind "Charter 08," a manifesto of human rights in China that was published on Dec. 10, 2008.
His wife, Liu Xia, was put under house arrest at the couple's Beijing apartment soon after the Nobel Prize announcement.
The Lius' attorneys, friends and human-rights activists say they have had no access to Mrs. Liu in the past few weeks and are worried about her well-being.
Mr. Liu's brothers, who until recently were allowed to visit him in prison, also have been interrogated and warned by authorities not to attempt to travel outside China.
Yang Jianli, a longtime friend of the Lius who himself spent five years as a political prisoner in China after participating in Tiananmen Square protests, has been entrusted by Mrs. Liu with the task of putting together a list of friends and family members who will attend the Nobel ceremony.
"This has turned out to be an almost impossible task," said Mr. Yang in a phone interview from Boston, where he heads Initiatives for China, an organization dedicated to advancing peaceful democratic change in China.
Mr. Yang said the Chinese government reacted "hatefully" after the Nobel announcement by cracking down on not only Mrs. Liu, but also many of the couple's friends and supporters.
"As a result of that pressure, it is very unlikely that any of them will be able to travel outside China to attend the Nobel ceremony," he said.
In November, authorities in Beijing prevented Mo Shaoping, a high-profile human-rights lawyer, and his colleague from leaving China to attend an international bar association conference in London.
Mr. Mo's law firm represents Mr. Liu.
"Chinese efforts [against the Lius and their supporters] cover a range of different measures of duress," said Maran Turner, executive director of Freedom Now and a member of Mr. Liu's pro bono international legal team.
"From Liu Xiaobo's family, there will unfortunately not be any representation at the ceremony in Oslo unless there is some kind of miracle in the next week; and we don't expect one," she added.
Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov (1975) and Lech Walesa (1983) were not allowed to travel to Oslo to receive their peace prizes, but their wives were permitted to collect the awards. Myanmarese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's son received the award on her behalf in 1991. Mrs. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has issued a demarche to other governments not to send representatives to the Nobel ceremony.
Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says China's actions are unprecedented.
"I don't think we have ever seen a case of a country openly lobbying other countries not to attend the investiture of a person with the Nobel peace prize" Mr. Cheng said. “What we are seeing are the limits of how far China is willing to go to accommodate both Western opinion with regard to its image and with regard to human rights."
Sophie Richardson, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said the Chinese government has invested an "extraordinary" amount of resources into “trying to prevent the Nobel Committee from awarding the prize to Liu Xiaobo in the first place and then intimidating governments into not attending the ceremony."
This week, Norway announced that China had indefinitely postponed bilateral trade talks, ostensibly to protest the peace prize.
"It is a fairly powerful indication of the crude thugishness of some Chinese diplomacy, but also a remarkable statement about Beijing's unwillingness or inability to make a distinction between the Norwegian government and the Nobel Committee" which is based in Oslo, Ms. Richardson said.
"To try to browbeat, hector, coerce, intimidate others into doing its bidding is remarkable, and I don't mean that in a good way," she added.
Besides China, five other countries - Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco and Iraq - have told the Nobel Institute they will not attend the ceremony.
"Unfortunately, in some cases countries are capitulating to the Chinese bullying tactics and for others it is a case where that country also tends to have a number of political prisoners," Ms. Turner said.
Mr. Yang said China's actions are tantamount to “exporting repressive tactics to the international community."
He said countries that have succumbed to Chinese pressure must carefully consider their decision because the Chinese government is "standing on the wrong side of history."
"It doesn't take rocket science to judge what is wrong and what is right in this regard," Mr. Yang said.
The Obama administration is sending the U.S. ambassador in Oslo, Barry White, to attend the ceremony. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, will also be present. Both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Smith have been outspoken critics of China's human rights record.
France and Britain also have said they will be sending representatives to the ceremony.
Announcing the prize for Mr. Liu in October, the Nobel Committee said it was honoring his "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
"Liu Xiaobo, armed with the credibility of the Nobel peace prize, has become a rallying point for resentment against the [Chinese] government both internationally as well as domestically," Mr. Yang said.
Rights activists and the Lius' attorneys say President Obama should seize the opportunity presented by Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington in January to press for the Lius' release.
Mr. Obama, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said at the time of the prize announcement in October that Mr. Liu had "sacrificed his freedoms for his beliefs."
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