“We welcome this prize because we have taken up his case for a long time now. He is a prominent figure in the human rights movement in China and we appreciate the spotlight on his situation. We have been calling for his release,” Amnesty Sweden press secretary Elisabeth Löfgren told The Local on Friday.
The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) also welcomed the selection of Liu, but President Anna Ek also worried about the reaction of the Chinese government and the repercussions of the choice for other dissidents in the country.
“The Chinese regime will be pissed off. Instead of releasing political prisoners, it may increase the level of repression,” she said.
In announcing Liu as the winner, the Norwegian Nobel Committee cited “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”.
“For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China,” the Nobel Committee said in a statement.
Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights last year, a year after helping to author Charter 08, the manifesto on fundamental human rights in China which was published in December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China,” the Nobel Committee said.
Liu was nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in January by former Czech president Václav Havel, the Dalai Lama, André Glucksmann, Vartan Gregorian, former New Zealand prime minister Mike Moore, Karel Schwarzenberg, Desmond Tutu and prominent Russian economist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky.
He learned of the nomination through his lawyer while in prison. It is unclear whether he has been informed that he has won the award or when he will find out. Only two other laureates have won while in prison, one of them Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.
It is also uncertain how China will react to the news. As Löfgren pointed out, Liu is relatively unknown in the country because citizens are not informed about issues relating to human rights.
In an unprecedented move prior to the announcement, Beijing warned that awarding the prize to Liu could damage China-Norway ties.
Both Amnesty and the Peace and Arbitration Society hope that the prize will result in the release of Liu or a shortening of his prison sentence.
In addition, it it not yet known who will receive the prize on his behalf, nor what he would like to do with the funds. Löfgren pointed out that whoever is chosen to accept the prize must first receive permission from the Chinese authorities to do so.
Liu is the first recipient of the prize from China. The India-based Dalai Lama from Tibet won it in 1989.
Ek was surprised that the early predictions for his win turned out to be accurate. A Dublin-based online betting house declared Liu the winner prior to the announcement and paid out prizes after a surge in betting on Liu led the operators to conclude “the Nobel cat is well and truly out of the bag.”
“There is always speculation, but it is never the one who wins it. They felt it coming. Of course, it was our hope he would win,” she said.
All the Nobel Prizes are announced and awarded in Stockholm with the exception of the Peace Prize. It is unclear why founder Alfred Nobel chose to include peace as a prize category, nor why he dictated in his will that the prize be administered in Norway, which was still a part of Sweden at the time of his death.