Friday, December 10, 2010

Liu Xiaobo: "I have no enemies"

Today China's most well known dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and would have received it had he not been languishing in a Chinese prison. But the ceremony went ahead without him, an empty chair placed symbolically where Liu Xiaobo would have sat.

As Thorbjørn Jagland, the Chairman of the Nobel Ctte, began to address hundreds of assembled guests many news stations around the world began live coverage of the events in Oslo, Norway. Norway's NRK relayed the ceremony in a video stream. Meanwhile broadcasters began coverage of the event which last just over an hour. 

CNN, Euronews, France 24 and Al Jazeera began relaying pictures as the ceremony began, however both the BBC and Sky News dropped in some 15 minutes into the proceedings. The two British broadcasters switched away from events in Oslo after only 15 minutes. However CNN, Euronews, France 24 and Al Jazeera continued providing coverage almost until the end. Euronews gave the least interrupted coverage, while others continued to talk over the events and give analysis. By the end only France 24 and Euronews had lasted the entire ceremony.

There was a standing ovation given by the hundreds of guests from more than 53 countries as Thorbjørn Jagland paid tribute to Liu. Amongst them were representatives from China's Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Nancy Pelosi, a longtime supporter of human rights in China, was one of several US representatives in attendance. 

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives, at which she is the speaker, passed a resolution congratulating Liu on winning the peace prize and called for his release. "In passing the House resolution...the American government sent a clear message of support for individuals who stand for non-violence, justice, democratic freedoms and defence of fundamental human rights," Pelosi said in a statement.

China had claimed the "majority of international community members do not accept the Nobel Committee's wrong decision". Earlier, 19 countries had said they were not going for various reasons. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco all announced they would not attend. However, at the last minute the Ukraine and the Philippines reversed their decision. Serbia had also announced a late withdrawal, a decision believed to be based on its claim over the breakaway state of Kosovo, which was likened to China's claim on Tibet. However at the last minute it too made a U-turn [BBC].

Opening remarks

"The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China," Thorbjørn Jagland said in his opening address. "The Norwegian Nobel committee has long believed there is a close connection with human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the fraternity between nations."

After a rapturous applause lasting nearly a minute, he went on to mention other peace prize winners who had been unable to attend, amongst them Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Wałęsa and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of China's reaction to the award, Jagland said, "The point is never to offend ... but to say something about human rights and peace." While he congratulated China for lifting millions out of poverty he said China will grow stronger if its people are given human rights. In addition, its leaders should be more open to criticism. "China must be prepared for criticism and regard it as positive," Jagland said.

And in his strongest statement directed at China's rulers he called for Liu Xiaobo's freedom. "Liu has not done anything wrong, he must be released," the Nobel Committee chairman exclaimed.

After a 40 minute address, Thorbjørn Jagland placed the award on the empty chair that would have been occupied by Liu Xiaobo. It was powerful as it was symbolic and a moment that drew immediate applause. 

Jasmine flowers & un salut d'amour

During the second part of the ceremony Lynn Chang, a Chinese American violinist, played a number of pieces to the assembled audience. He opened with two Chinese folk songs. The first was Jasmine Flowers [Mòlìhuā 茉莉花], a lilting, meditative 18th-century composition familiar throughout China and sung during closing ceremonies at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The second piece was Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon [Cǎiyún zhuī yuè 彩云追月], an upbeat, jazzy composition whose lyrics refer to missing loved ones. It was written by Ren Guang [任光] and Nie Er [聂耳] in 1935. The final piece was Salut d'amour Op12 (Love's Greeting), written by Edward Elgar in 1888.

"I have no enemies"

After the musical interlude Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read from Liu Xiaobo's "I have no enemies: my final statement" [Full text].

In the text Liu spoke his education and teaching before becoming embroiled in the events surrounding the pro-democracy movement in 1989. For his part in the protests, Liu saw his first clash with the authoriarian state. "I was imprisoned for "counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement to crime" ," Liu wrote. 

"Twenty years on, the innocent souls of June Fourth do not yet rest in peace, and I, who had been drawn into the path of dissidence by the passions of June Fourth, after leaving the Qincheng Prison in 1991, lost in the right to speak openly in my own country, and could only do so through overseas media, and hence was monitored for many years; placed under surveillance (May 1995- January 1996); educated through labour (October 1996 – October 1999s), and now once again am thrust into the dock by enemies in the regime."

Despite his imprisonment and harassment, Liu said he bore no malice. "I have no enemies, and no hatred," Liu wrote, adding that "Hatred is corrosive of a person's wisdom and conscience." In words, more akin to those of Jesus Christ, Liu said, "None of the police who have monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I'm unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities."

In word's that might echo Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, Liu talked of his hope that he would one day see a free China. "I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where all citizens' speeches are treated the same; here, different values, ideas, beliefs, political views… both compete with each other and coexist peacefully; here, majority and minority opinions will be given equal guarantees, in particular, political views different from those in power will be fully respected and protected."


While Euronews and France 24 continued with live uninterrupted coverage of Liu's last statement, CNN cut coverage and Al Jazeera gave way to political analysis. CNN returned to Oslo briefly but as the proceedings came to an end only Euronews and France 24 continued until the finale. 

The ceremony ended with a performance by the Norwegian National Opera children's choir, a request apparently made by Liu Xiaobo himself. Committee secretary Geir Lundestad, speaking at a news conference on Thursday had said Liu had wanted a children's choir to sing at the ceremony "and this will be done."

"He likes children and this would be the kind of music he would appreciate," said Lundestad. It was appreciated too by the audience, who sat attentively gazing in thought. There were also a few moist eyes amongst the attendees as the cameras cast a glance around the hall. This was an emotive moment in history, and one that brought with it a vision of hope, freedom, democracy and peace. [Nobel Prize / BBC / Sky News / CNN / Euronews / France 24 / Al Jazeera / NHK / Russia Today / Press TV / CCTV / CCTV]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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