The 2010 Nobel peace prize was on Friday placed on an empty chair in Oslo’s city hall in a symbolic act to mark its award to Liu Xiaobo.
In the centrepiece of a simple, moving ceremony watched by an audience of 1,000 people, among them Norway’s king and queen and a clutch of fellow Chinese dissidents, the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, placed the citation and medal on a simple, blue upholstered seat on a small row of chairs to the right of the hall’s stage.
“We regret that the laureate is not present here today,” Mr. Jagland told the audience, who stood several times during the ceremony to applaud.
“He is in isolation in a prison in north-east China. Nor can the laureate’s wife, Liu Xia, or his closest relatives be here with us. No medal or diploma will therefore be presented here. This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. We congratulate Liu Xiaobo with this year’s peace prize.” It is the first time since 1936, when the German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was stopped by Nazi authorities from travelling to Oslo, that the peace prize has been awarded in this way. On three other occasions -- Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, Lech Walesa in 1983 and Andrei Sakharov in 1975 -- family members have had to collect the prize instead.
While Liu was jailed for 11 years last year for subversion, his wife remains under house arrest, meaning no one could collect the award for him.
The decision to award the prize to Liu, a former university academic radicalised by the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest -- Mr. Jagland said the award was “dedicated to the lost souls of 4 June”.
In his absence, the Norwegian actor Liv Ullman spoke on Liu’s behalf, reading out extracts of his last public address, in December last year to the court which was about to jail him. Explaining his philosophy of protest, it has as a central message: “I have no enemies, and no hatred.” Several audience members wiped away tears during a section in which he described his love for Liu Xia.
The ceremony ended with a performance by a children’s choir -- a request from Liu in the one message he was able to send from prison via his wife.