(Source: New York Times) BEIJING — The banquet organized Friday night to celebrate the news that the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had won the Nobel Peace Prize was over before it began.
While the two dozen bloggers, rights lawyers and academics were arriving at the private room they had reserved at a Beijing restaurant shortly after the Norwegian Committee’s announcement, the police rushed in and briskly led the celebrators away, according to those who were there.
On Saturday evening, at least a half-dozen participants remained in custody.
As presidents, religious figures and rights advocates around the world praised the Nobel Committee and called on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, the Chinese government reacted with unrestrained ire.
They called in the Norwegian ambassador in Beijing for a dressing down, placed scores of dissidents under house arrest and angrily described the decision to honor Mr. Liu as “blasphemy” and an insult to the Chinese people.
Mr. Liu, 54, a former literature professor who has spent the past 20 years pressing for political reform in China, is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of the state,” based on his writings and a pro-democracy manifesto, Charter ’08, that he helped to draft. The document, which demands an end to single-party rule and calls for expanded liberties, gathered 10,000 signatures before government censors blocked its circulation on the Internet.
In an editorial on Saturday, The Global Times, a state newspaper, accused the Nobel Committee of imposing “Western” values on China, showing contempt for its legal system and seeking to split the nation by provoking social strife. “Every Chinese can sense a deliberate maliciousness in doing so,” it said.
The English-language version of the same newspaper expanded on the theme, quoting an international relations professor at Renmin University, who said that the decision to select Mr. Liu for the prize was intended to humiliate China. “Such a decision will not only draw the ire of the Chinese public, but also damage the reputation of the prize,” said the professor, Shi Yinhong.
On Friday night, scores of journalists gathered outside Mr. Liu’s home, but the police refused to allow his wife, Liu Xia, to come out and would not let reporters enter. The police later led her away, promising to escort her to Jinzhou Prison, 300 miles away in Liaoning Province, to see her husband.
Mr. Liu’s brother, Liu Xiaoxuan, said that family members learned on Saturday that she was scheduled to see her husband on Sunday. Ms. Liu’s cellphone was shut off on Saturday, and friends expressed concern because they could not reach her.
In an interview last week, Ms. Liu said she had little expectation that her husband would win the prize but said that if he did, she hoped it might prompt the authorities to release him earlier. “As my friends have said, how can they keep a Nobel Peace Prize winner in Jinzhou Prison?” she said.
Few Chinese citizens seemed aware of the honor accorded Mr. Liu, even 24 hours after its announcement. “Never heard of him, but we also haven’t watched TV recently,” said Yang Guwen, dressed in a denim cowboy shirt, as he and his girlfriend walked beneath a huge television screen that hangs over one of the capital’s ritziest shopping malls.
Had he followed news reports, Mr. Yang would not have learned that a Chinese citizen had won one of the world’s most respected prizes. Except for the Global Times editorial and a brief Foreign Ministry condemnation posted on the Internet, Chinese newspapers and Web-based portals ignored the news. Anyone typing the words “Nobel Peace Prize” or “Liu Xiaobo” into Google found themselves facing a blank screen.
A veteran civil rights lawyer, Teng Biao, said he was on his way to meet a foreign journalist on Saturday when he was stopped by national security agents at the Beijing university where he teaches. “The officers say that the police have rigid orders from higher authorities that they must work resolutely to thwart celebratory activities to mark this event,” he said in a cellphone interview, having briefly stepped away from the agents to take a call. “They are keeping a strict eye on the most active people, in order to reduce its impact to the smallest degree possible.”
The activists who gathered for the celebratory meal on Friday night were no strangers to police surveillance. Earlier in the evening, they had met in a park with yellow ribbons pinned to their shirts and clear plastic sleeves — the kinds favored by conventioneers — slung around their necks. The sleeves carried two portraits of Mr. Liu: one dark and somber, the other brightly lighted and decidedly cheery.
When word of the Nobel Prize arrived, they turned the happy photo to face out, walked to the restaurant and tacked a portrait of Mr. Liu on a wall. By the time Paul Mooney, an American freelance journalist, arrived, the police had already shown up.
After a brief scuffle, the men and women were led away, leaving Mr. Mooney alone with a roomful of officers and the crumpled portrait of the Nobel laureate on the floor. Out of curiosity, he asked the young officers if they were familiar with Mr. Liu. “None of them even knew who he was,” he said.