Chinese dissent crackdown shrinks Nobel turnout

None of jailed Liu Xiabao`s relatives was expected to collect Nobel prize.

Oslo: Only one of about 140 Chinese activists invited by the wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has confirmed he will attend the prize ceremony in Oslo, according to an organiser of the guest list.

Others have been stopped from leaving China or placed under tight surveillance amid a crackdown on dissenters following the prize announcement, several activists said.

Nobel officials said last week that none of Liu`s relatives were expected to travel to Oslo to collect the prize on Liu`s behalf. But his wife, Liu Xia, had invited scores of activists and luminaries to attend the December 10 ceremony in an open letter posted online.

Wan Yanhai, who fled to the United States in May after increasing official harassment of his AIDS advocacy group, is the only person on that list to confirm his attendance.

"I heard many people on the list were put on a blacklist and were not allowed, or their family members not even allowed, to leave China. It`s a horrible situation," Wan told by phone on Wednesday from Philadelphia, where he lives.

"It could be like I become the only person from that list who will be there," Wan said. "That will be interesting."

Yang Jianli, an exiled Chinese democracy activist who was helping Liu Xia to coordinate the guest list, confirmed that Wan was the only one of those invited by her that would attend for sure.

"Yes, it looks pretty much like that, but we are still trying to get some from China to attend," he said from Boston. "It is very, very unlikely, but we will not give up until last minute."

Yang said about 30 to 50 seats at Oslo`s City Hall have been reserved for Liu`s delegation. He said Chinese dissidents living outside mainland China and not on the list posted by Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since the prize was announced on October 08, would fill some of the seats.

China was infuriated when the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to give the prestigious Peace Prize to Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China`s one-party political system.

Chinese media, all of which is state-controlled, has run a propaganda campaign to demonise Liu as a criminal and the Nobel award as the tool of a West out to contain a newly powerful but peaceful China.

Nobel officials said last week that the prize ceremony would go ahead but most likely without a presentation of the award — which includes a medal, diploma and purse of 10 million Swedish kronor (USD 1.4 million) — because none of Liu`s close relatives was able to leave China to collect it.

Another dissident, environmental activist Dai Qing, initially planned to attend the ceremony but said she changed her mind when she heard Wan would be there.

"If I am going to Oslo I risk not being able to go home," Dai, who lives in China, said from Toronto, where she has been working with a Canadian non-profit group since October.

Liu Xia`s invitation was extended to many well-known Chinese activists, with about half of those on her list made up of signatories to Charter 08, the bold appeal for democratic reforms that Liu Xiaobo co-authored.

Most of the activists are in China and have been placed under tighter surveillance since the Nobel Prize announcement.

These include Ding Zilin, the spokeswoman for Tiananmen Mothers, a group she founded for people whose children were killed in the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. Ding has been out of phone contact for weeks.

At least a dozen people, mostly liberal academics and activist lawyers on Liu`s list, have been prevented from leaving China, according to Cui Weiping, a professor of literary and film criticism, who was banned from travelling to Italy by her university lest she show up in Oslo. A professor of world religion`s was among the latest, stopped at Beijing`s airport on Friday on his way to a seminar in Singapore.

Several activists are under house arrest, including Zhang Zuhua, who helped write Charter 08, and former top government adviser Bao Tong. Many human rights lawyers also included in the invitation reported being blocked from travelling out of the country to attend seminars and other recent events.

Attempts to reach the acclaimed film director Chen Kaige, who also was invited, through his agent were unsuccessful.

Liu Xia`s letter said she had invited prominent cultural figures because she hoped they could help promote social change in China. "China`s social progress needs the joint effort of people from all walks of life," she wrote.

Rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, also named in Liu Xia`s letter, disappeared in April shortly after announcing he was abandoning his role as a government critic. His family says it has no idea what has happened to him.

Bureau Report