- Associated Press - Monday, October 11, 2010

BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday blocked European officials from meeting with the wife of the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner, cut off her phone communication and canceled meetings with Norwegian officials — acting on its fury over the award.

As China retaliated, U.N. human rights experts called on Beijing to free imprisoned democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, who was permitted a brief, tearful meeting with his wife Sunday.

Mr. Liu dedicated the award to the “lost souls” of the 1989 military crackdown on student demonstrators.

A slight, 54-year-old literary critic, Mr. Liu is in the second year of an 11-year prison term for inciting subversion.

In naming him, the Norwegian-based Nobel committee honored Mr. Liu’s more than two decades of advocacy of human rights and peaceful democratic change — from demonstrations for democracy at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 to a manifesto for political reform that he co-authored in 2008 and that led to his latest jail term.

Beijing has reacted angrily to Friday’s announcement honoring Mr. Liu, calling him a criminal and warning Norway’s government that relations would suffer, even though the Nobel committee is an independent organization.

On Monday, it abruptly canceled a meeting that was scheduled for Wednesday between visiting Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and her Chinese counterpart. Ms. Berg-Hansen was in China for a weeklong visit to the World Expo in Shanghai.

“If the meeting has been cancelled due to the Peace Prize, we find that to be an unnecessary reaction from China,” said Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ragnhild Imerslund. “We have not received any reason for canceling the meeting.”

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama criticized China for its response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, saying the government “must change,” the Kyodo News agency reported. The Tibetan spiritual leader, who won the prize himself in 1989, said Beijing must recognize that fostering an open society is “the only way to save all people of China.”

Also Monday, four U.N. human rights experts released a statement calling for China to release Mr. Liu immediately. The independent U.N.-appointed investigators, who examine issues from free speech to arbitrary detention, called on China to release Mr. Liu and “all persons detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

European diplomats, meanwhile, were prevented from visiting his wife, Liu Xia, who has been living under house arrest since Friday. Mrs. Liu has been told that if she wants to leave her home, she must be escorted in a police car, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said.

She reported that her phone communications, along with her Internet, has been cut off; both her and her brother’s mobile phones have been interfered with, HRIC said. She is not being allowed to contact the media or her friends, the group said.

Simon Sharpe, the first secretary of political affairs of the EU delegation in China, said he went to see her at her home in Beijing to deliver personally a letter of congratulations from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr. Sharpe was accompanied by diplomats from 10 countries, including Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Australia.

But three uniformed guards at the main gate of Mrs. Liu’s apartment complex prevented the group from entering, saying someone from inside the building had to come out and fetch them.

“We were told that we could only go in if we called somebody from the inside and if they came out to meet us. But of course, we can’t call Liu Xia, because it’s impossible to get through to her phone,” Mr. Sharpe told reporters at the entrance to the compound.

Mr. Sharpe read out a message from Mr. Barroso saying the prize was “a strong message of support to all those around the world who sometimes with great personal sacrifice are struggling for freedom and human rights.”

The Nobel Committee has sent the official prize documents, including an invitiation to the Dec. 10 ceremony, to the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, asking Chinese authorities to hand them over to Mr. Liu, said committee Secretary Geir Lundestad.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau and the Foreign Mministry had no immediate comment on why authorities were apparently restricting Mrs. Liu’s movements since she has not been charged with anything. But “soft detention” is a common tactic used by the Chinese government to intimidate and muffle activists and critics.

In recent days, Beijing also has stepped up its harassment of other activists, detaining several when they tried to organize a dinner to celebrate Mr. Liu’s Nobel.

Zhang Jiannan, who runs an Internet forum on political matters, told the Associated Press that he and other activists had gone out Friday to celebrate Mr. Liu’s victory. He was placed under house arrest Saturday and warned by police not to participate in political activities.

“Our (bulletin board system) had been warmly discussing Liu Xiaobo winning the award and passing the news to more people. I think police feel the pressure. They want to crack down on this circle of dissidents, and I and my site became a good target to set an example for others,” he said, adding that he has agreed to shut down his website because he is fearful of police retaliation against his family.

On Monday, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was the latest to be detained by police, according to his assistant, who did not want to be identified. Mr. Pu had sent out a message via Twitter on Sunday that said security officials had showed up telling him not to accept interviews with foreign media.

In Australia, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said he would raise to Chinese authorities Canberra’s objections to the 11-year prison sentence imposed on Mr. Liu and to restrictions placed on the movements of the dissident’s wife.

Associated Press writers Gillian Wong, Ken Teh and Isolda Morillo and researcher Xi Yue in Beijing; AP writer Bjoern H. Amland in Oslo; and AP writer Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this report.