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:


Ghost Hero, New S.J. Rozan Mystery Novel, Turns Spotlight on China's Dissidents and Freedom of Expression

By Suzanne Trimel, Media Relations Director

Ghost HeroStarting rumors in the art world that new paintings have surfaced by a Chinese artist supposedly killed 20 years earlier in the Tianamen Square uprising are at the heart of the latest mystery novel, Ghost Hero, by the prize-winning crime writer S.J. Rozan.

With its taut, heart-thumping plot, the book is another treat for lovers of Rozan’s series about the private investigator Lydia Chin and her partner Bill Smith.

But what gives the book special focus for human rights activists is Rozan’s spotlight on China’s efforts to crush freedom of expression following the arrest last spring of the artist Ai Weiwei and China’s continued imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo for his writings critical of the government.


Why Today's Human Rights Day Is So Special

Today is a special Human Rights Day. It marks the beginning of Amnesty International’s 50th year celebration.  That’s 50 years of working together to demand freedom and justice for all.

The shameful imprisonment of writer Liu Xiaobo and China’s refusal to allow him or his family to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo earlier today is a powerful reminder that we must sustain global pressure to achieve basic rights.

Like Liu Xiaobo, millions of people worldwide live in fear of persecution by repressive governments or armed factions and millions more suffer extreme deprivation.  But we are not powerless against this injustice.

Amnesty International has proved for 50 years that collective action is a powerful force for change. Just look at the last month where the world witnessed the joyful release of the world’s most famous political prisoner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after 15 years of house arrest in Myanmar.

In 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson ignited a worldwide campaign when he published an article in The London Observer titled The Forgotten Prisoners.” Benenson wrote: “Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.” Amnesty International was born that year with an appeal to free six prisoners of conscience.

Over the next 50 years, we’ve shown that collective action is a powerful force for change.  Today Amnesty International is the largest grassroots human rights organization in the world with nearly 3 million members worldwide.  We’ve helped win the freedom of tens of thousands of individuals jailed for expressing beliefs or defending basic rights, shut down torture chambers, halted executions, and established laws and treaties to protect the freedom and dignity of people around the world – and in the United States. And we won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

We hope that on this human rights day you’ll join us and our global human rights movement.  Take actionDonate.  Invite your friends.  Help us give the gift of human rights to countless others around the world (watch our video below for a taste of what we can achieve when we work together).

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.

Human Rights Activists in China Locked Up For Speaking Out

China expressed outrage over the Nobel committee’s decision to award its prestigious Peace Prize to incarcerated Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.  But the real outrage is China’s treatment of those who dare to speak truth to power.

Liu is just one of many Chinese human rights activists who currently languish in jail in the country (you can take action for Liu here). They are prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

The human rights movement in China is growing, but those who attempt to report on human rights violations or challenge government policies face serious risk of abuse. The authorities make frequent use of vaguely-worded charges to silence and imprison peaceful activists, such as “subversion of state power” (the charge which gave Liu a 11-year sentence), “endangering state security” and “separatism”.

Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, became another victim of this crackdown when she was placed under house arrest after she returned home from visiting Liu in prison after he had won the Nobel prize.  She joins other prominent Chinese activists who have been targeted for daring to criticize the government.  Below we profile five human rights defenders currently locked up in China for speaking out.

Liu Xianbin, 43
Detained since 28 June in Suining Province, Sichuan

Liu XianbinThe prominent Sichuan democracy activist has been held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” since being seized by security officers at his home four months ago. Local human rights activists believe he is being punished for his activism and defence of human rights. Liu was first imprisoned in 1992 for his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy movement. In 1998, he co-founded the Sichuan branch of the China Democracy Party. The following year, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail for “subversion of state power”. After his release in November 2008 he continued to speak out against the Chinese government. He was a prominent supporter, together with Liu Xiaobo, of Charter 08, a proposal for fundamental legal and political reform in China that aims to achieve a democratic system that respects human rights. He has also published articles on human rights and democracy and worked to increase public awareness of other persecuted activists. Liu is currently awaiting trial.


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.