What do China and Burma have in common? They both have a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in prolonged detention.
The 1991 recipient, Aung Sang Suu Kyi is a fortnight shy of 15 year in detention in her native Burma (although the Burmese junta has hinted at a final release, albeit without voting rights or the continued existence of her political party, after the upcoming farce of a General Election).
Perhaps the Norwegian Nobel Committee is developing a sense of humility and persepective after awarding the 2009 prize to an American President based on nominations submitted less than a month after he assumed office; and the 2007 prize to someone else who had failed to become the American President based on a Powerpoint presentation over, amongst others, a woman who personally had saved thousands of children from Nazi forces and had several of her limbs broken in retaliation.
This year, the prize has been awarded to gaoled Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. A participant in the popular movement arising from the 1989 Tianamen Square Protests, Liu was convicted but released in 1991 when he recanted in letter form. He spent more than half of the rest of the decade in detention for other forms of dissent.
Now heading the Chinese chapter of PEN, Liu was involved with Charter 08 (English translation available) which was released on 10 December 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calling for its implementation without China. Although he and over three hundred other academics and literary figures identified themselves, they were perhaps wary not to use Yahoo! services considering the fates which had befallen Li Zhi and Shi Tao who did use this Internet company.
Chinese authorities had pre-empted even this release by detaining Liu two days before the online release, and later charging him with inciting the subversion State power. In December 2009, he was convicted and sentanced to 11 years in gaol and a two year suspension of political rights.
Normally, the Norwegian Nobel Committee will not comment on nominees. Earlier this week, however, it was confirmed that Liu was shortlisted; immediately resulting in terse warnings from Beijing that this would run contrary to the principles of the Prize.
Clearly this did not dissuade the Committee, and already there are reports that the Norwegian Ambassador to Beijing has been summoned by Government officials who believe this has “profaned” the Prize (37 years out for some observers). I also have heard radio reports that several dozen of Liu’s supporters have been arrested outside his the Beijing residence of his wife, Liu Xia.
Who knows? Maybe the 2011 award could go to Nay Phone Latt, a Burmese blogger who was sentanced in 2008 to 20 years for producing a cartoon of Senior General Than Shwe.
Gene adds: At Socialist Unity, Andy Newman disapproves of the award to Liu.
In the words of Gomer Pyle, USMC: