Oslo: The much awaited and debated Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony got underway here on Friday in the absence of this year’s winner Liu Xiaobo, imprisoned Chinese activist. Liu was not be able to collect the prestigious $1.4 million award at the Oslo ceremony — the first time in 74 years that it has not been handed over. A chair, symbolic of his presence, was kept in the hall along with Liu’s picture.
“We regret that the laureate is not present. He is in isolation in northeast China…this alone shows that this award is appropriate and necessary,” the President of the Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland said to a standing ovation. The applause lasted at least 4-5 minutes.
Liu was awarded for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," he said.
He then went on to urge China to give civil rights to its citizens and insisted that the ceremony was not meant to humiliate any body. The prize was put on the chair symbolically kept for Liu.
The ceremony began with a solo Operatic rendition in the presence of the King and Queen of Norway. The ceremony included a performance by a children`s choir - a wish Liu had managed to convey to organisers from his imprisonment.
At least 18 countries, including China. India attended the ceremony.
"Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not
done anything wrong. He must be released," Jagland said.
China was infuriated when the prestigious prize was awarded to the 54-year-old literary critic, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing`s one-party communist political system.
Beijing described the award as an attack on its political and legal system and has placed Liu`s supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest to prevent anyone from picking up his prize.
China also pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony. China and 17 other countries have declined to attend, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. At least 46 of the 65 countries with embassies in Oslo have accepted invitations.
Standing on a flower-decked podium in the Oslo city
hall next to an empty chair and a large portrait of a smiling
Liu, Jagland pointed out that China`s constitution gives its
citizens the right to "freedom of speech, of the press, of
assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration."
He also pointed out how "in the past 100 to 150 years,
human rights and democracy have gained an ever-stronger
position in the world."
Therefore, "the human rights activists in China are
defenders of the international order and the main trends in
the global community. Viewed in that light, they are thus not
dissidents, but representatives of the main lines of
development in today`s world," he said.
Liu`s "views will in the long run strengthen China,"
Instead of an acceptance speech, Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read a "final statement" titled "I Have No Enemies" that was released by Liu`s supporters after his sentencing a year ago.
In the statement, Liu underlined the importance of the 1989 democracy movement - where he took part in a hunger strike - that ended with a crackdown in Beijing`s Tianamen Square, observing "the ghosts of June 4 (1989) have not yet been laid to rest".
The 54-year-old said he was convinced China would change and "there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme".
He also paid tribute to his wife, Liu Xia, now under house arrest in Beijing, saying her love "is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window".
Members of the Norwegian government and outgoing speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi were among the prominent guests.
The some 1,000 guests gave a long round of applause when Jagland extended congratulations to the absent Liu and called for his release.
Jagland reminded guests, including King Harald and Queen Sonja of previous occasions when the laureate was unable to attend, including 75 years ago when German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky won the award to the fury of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Jagland said the prize to Liu was not a prize against China and underlined that the country`s growing power "entails increased responsibility" and it must be prepared to accept "criticism" - just as was the case for the US in the past.