Hundreds implore Chinese government to release human rights activist Liu Xiabo ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
|Friday’s ceremony will be the first time that a laureate under detention has not been represented since 1935 [EPA]|
China says “vast majority” of nations would boycott this week’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, but the Norwegian award committee announced that two-thirds of those invited would attend.
China has mounted an unprecedented campaign to keep envoys from attending, the committee says. It has denounced the awarding of the accolade to Liu, a pro-democracy activist, as an “obscenity,” and has unleashed a torrent of diplomatic scorn towards host nation Norway, while exerting pressure on diplomats to boycott Friday’s ceremony.
“As far as I know, at present, more than 100 countries and organisations have expressed explicit support for China opposing the Nobel Peace Prize, which fully shows that the international community does not accept the decision of the Nobel Committee,” Jiang Yu, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said on Tuesday.
China said the granting of the prize to “a criminal” was an affront to its “legal sovereignty” and would not affect its policies.
“We will not change because of some wind blowing the grass and because of the interference of some clowns who are anti-China,” Jiang said.
Yet the Nobel committee offered a very different picture from that presented by Jiang.
Geir Lundestad, the executive secretary of the Nobel Committee, told the Reuters press agency that China’s contention that most nations would stay away was “a very curious way of stating things” as only the 65 countries with embassies in Norway were invited, and 44 of those had accepted.
The committee said in a statement on Tuesday that 19 countries had declined invitations for the gala including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.
Those who have accepted include South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, as well as big emerging states such as India, Brazil and South Africa.
Algeria and Sri Lanka did not reply to the Committee.
The number of embassies who won’t be attending Friday’s ceremony is almost double the amount who didn’t attend the 2008 prize-giving event for Martti Ahtisaari.
David Kootnikoff, a Hong Kong-based blogger (The Rebel Kind) told Al Jazeera that the countries joining the boycott are motivated by self-interest.
“These countries all have little regard for human rights or are within China’s sphere of influence and are seeking favours. Some – like Vietnam, which has territorial issues at stake – may also be trying to appease,” he said.
The blogger called the decision by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, not to attend the ceremony “sickening”.
“She should resign and return some level of integrity to the office,” he said.
He also refuted China’s claim that the vast majority of the world is backing its position.
“Here in Hong Kong Liu has overwhelming support among the populace, despite the Hong Kong government’s despicable silence on the issue,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘Don’t want to annoy China’
In Manila, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs declined to say why the Philippines was not attending the ceremony.
But a senior Filipino diplomat said the reason was to avoid another quarrel with China, still angry over President Benigno Aquino’s handling of a bus hijack incident in August that killed eight Hong Kong tourists.
“We do not want to further annoy China,” the official said, speaking under condition of anonymity.
China has sent letters to foreign ministries and embassies urging diplomats to stay away from the ceremony and warned of “consequences” for those who support the pro-democracy activist.
“It’s really unfortunate that China is using its political and economic clout to twist the arms of diplomats into not attending,” said Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher for Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy NGO, adding it was not the kind of action a country with China’s global presence should be taking.
With Liu serving an 11-year jail term, his wife under house arrest and many others prevented from travelling, nobody is expected to pick up the Nobel medal and $1.5 million award on his behalf.
Friday’s ceremony will be the first time that a laureate under detention has not be formally represented at the awards gala since Nazi Germany barred pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from coming in 1935.
The Nobel committee has decided to represent the laureate with an empty chair during the awards ceremony, in what it said was a symbol of Chinese policy to isolate and repress dissidents.