On Dec. 10, for the first time since 1936, when Nazi Germany prevented Carl von Ossietzky from traveling to Norway to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, neither the laureate nor any of his family members will be able to attend the Nobel ceremony in Oslo.
Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, is serving an 11-year sentence in a prison in northeastern China, after being convicted one year ago of "inciting subversion to state power." His wife, Liu Xia, is forcibly confined at home in Beijing by the police, and prevented from talking publicly under threat of losing her right to visit Liu. All the principal signatories and co-drafters of Charter 08 -- the manifesto calling for bottom-up political reforms that prompted Liu's arrest in December 2008 -- are under tight police surveillance, prevented from assembling, giving interviews to the media, or traveling abroad.
In selecting Liu in the face of pressure from Beijing, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has laid bare the Chinese government's overt hostility to human rights norms, at home and abroad. Since the prize was awarded in early October, the Chinese Communist Party has embarked on a sweeping crackdown on dissidents. Scores of Chinese citizens have been detained, placed under house arrested, or prevented from travelling to the ceremony in Oslo. But the prize and the ensuing clampdown may turn out to have profound consequences for how the world views China, and China's own ability to pursue its foreign-policy objectives.
In the days that followed the announcement of the prize, Liu Xia managed to circulate a letter expressing her desire to see Liu's friends and supporters attend the ceremony in Oslo; her letter included a list of more than a hundred names: Chinese writers, lawyers, academics, journalists, former party cadres, artists, and NGO activists, many with a distinguished record of patiently and peacefully challenging the limits of the one-party system. But after the letter became public, Chinese authorities informed each of those living in China that they would not be permitted to go. Some have been placed under police monitoring or confined at their homes with a retinue of police officers camping outside their doors. Countless other rights activists across the country have been harassed, summoned for questioning, or detained by the Public Security Bureau or state security officers. (The advocacy group China Human Rights Defender has compiled a helpful list of cases.)
Several prominent figures known for their outspoken views, including world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei, the top legal scholar He Weifang, China's famous criminal lawyer Mo Shaoping, and 80-year old economist Mao Yushi, have been banned from traveling ahead of the ceremony on the rationale advanced by border-security officials that such trips would "jeopardize national security."