Five Empty Chairs

In October, Amnesty applauded the announcement that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to three world-changing women—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. In addition to celebrating the work of these women, we’re also very happy that they’re all free to attend the award ceremony tomorrow.

While this year’s winners travel to Oslo to accept their awards, this freedom of movement is not the reality for many activists around the world, including past prize recipients.  Today, we remember five past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize who have been unable to attend the award ceremony due to persecution:


Why The Nobel Prize Isn’t Just About Women’s Rights

Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian 'peace warrior' Leymah Gbowee, winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Today the Nobel Committee announced that it is awarding its Peace Prize to three women: Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkul Karman, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

While the fact that the prize is being awarded to three women is important, it is not the most important symbol of what today’s announcement represents. Sure, the number of women who have been honored in the prize’s history (twelve until today) pales in comparison to the number of men (eighty-five), and that disparity should be addressed.

But focusing exclusively on the numbers game as we congratulate Gbowee, Karman and Sirleaf misses the point entirely: these women are not honored today because they are women. They are honored for what their work represents in promoting a more peaceful, just world. Doing so as women, they are both at unique risk and offer unique solutions—but their work makes the world a better place for all.


Liu Xiaobo: Living in Truth and Paying the Price

By Jean-Philippe Béja, academic and China specialist

“I dedicate this prize to all those lost souls who have sacrificed their lives in non-violent struggle for peace, democracy and freedom.” – Liu Xiaobo, upon learning in prison that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu Xiaobo with his wife Liu Xia who is currently under house arrest in Beijing © Private

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is undoubtedly a tribute to the memory of the 1989 pro-democracy movement that the Chinese government has been consistently trying to erase over the last two decades.

“June 1989 was the major turning point in my 50 years on life’s road,” Liu declared at his trial in December 2009.

This road had been fairly smooth until that day. Born in Changchun in northern China on 28 December 1955, Liu Xiaobo’s itinerary had been typical for his generation.

The son of a university professor, during the Cultural Revolution he followed his parents to the Inner Mongolian countryside, where he stayed from 1969 till 1973. He then spent more than two years in a rural people’s commune in his home province of Jilin, and was given a job as a construction worker in Changchun in 1976.

Chinese Government Pressuring Chinese in Norway Into Anti-Nobel Protests

Chinese diplomats in Norway have been systematically pressurizing Chinese residents into joining anti-Nobel demonstrations, which are planned to take place in Oslo on Friday.

Amnesty International has been informed by reliable sources in the Chinese diaspora that mainland Chinese residents in Norway have been repeatedly visited and called to meetings over the last two months by representatives of the Chinese government.

The pressure exerted by these representatives is perceived by those visited or attending the meetings as threats, with concrete and serious consequences for the future livelihood of Chinese residents who fail to show up for these demonstrations.

“We are shocked that Chinese authorities would bring the oppressive atmosphere of Beijing to Oslo,” said John Peder Egenæs, Director of Amnesty International Norway. “It’s shameful and saddening that Chinese people feel pressured to demonstrate against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize on a day that should be one of pride and celebration.”

Join us in calling for the immediate release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair Holds More Than China Realizes

By Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International

There is going to be one empty place at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony. Amongst the pomp and circumstance, before a packed house of a thousand invited guests and dignitaries gathered for the century-old event, the chair of this year’s recipient, Liu Xiaobo, will be vacant.

Liu Xiaobo would have sat on the podium alongside the members of the Nobel Committee in Oslo’s cavernous City Hall as he was honoured for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He would have given a speech, accepted his medal and diploma and continued his call for peaceful legal and political reform in China. He would have posed for pictures, given interviews, briefly enjoyed the glow of international recognition and then he would have gone home.

Instead, Liu Xiaobo is in jail. He is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his part as the leading author behind “Charter ‘08”, a manifesto calling for the recognition of fundamental human rights in China. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and basic human rights, but, like many others in China who have chosen to speak out, he has been severely punished.


Nineteen Countries Decline to Attend Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony

The Nobel Committee has confirmed that nineteen countries have declined invitations to attend the Peace Price ceremony in Norway on December 10, a rise on the usual number of declines.  This year, the Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded to Chinese prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo.

The 19 countries that have declined to attend according to the Committee are Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.

According to Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s director for Asia-Pacific, “China has been arm-twisting behind the scenes to stop governments from attending the Nobel Prize ceremony, using a combination of political pressure and economic blackmail.”

The fact that, despite the pressure and threats, the Chinese could only cajole a small minority of countries, reflects the unacceptable nature of their demands. Governments and international institutions must continue to resist this type of bullying.

China has made some great economic advances, but the world’s governments should not be mesmerized by China’s economic growth. The Chinese people want to be part of the global discussion on human rights and we should do everything possible to include them fully.

Join in demanding that China release Liu Xiaobo immediately.

Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize Win Puts Spotlight on China Rights Violations

We are thrilled that Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize today and hope his win will shine a spotlight on the struggle for fundamental freedoms and protection of human rights in China.

Liu Xiaobo has repeatedly called for political accountability in China. © Private

Liu, a 54-year-old scholar and author, who won the prize for his outstanding contribution to human rights, is currently serving an 11-year sentence on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” imposed after an unfair trial.

Amnesty International has long called for Liu’s release and is calling on the Chinese authorities to release him and all prisoners of conscience detained in the country immediately.

Liu is a prominent government critic who has repeatedly called for human rights protections, political accountability and democratization in China.

This award can only make a real difference if it prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

As last year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President Obama should publicly congratulate Liu to highlight the dire state of human rights in China and call upon Chinese President Hu Jintao to release Liu immediately and unconditionally.  Former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the Dalai Lama were among those who supported the nomination of Liu for the 2010 award.

Congratulations Liu Xiaobo!  We hope your award will bring you one step closer to freedom.