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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo Should Be Freed, Obama Says

A chair with the Nobel Peace Prize and diploma for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo is seen during a ceremony honoring Liu at city hall in Oslo, Norway Friday Dec. 10, 2010. Liu, a democracy activist, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system. At left is Nobel Commitee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland. At right is committee member Kaci Kullman Five. AP Photo/John McConnico

In a Friday morning statement, President Obama reiterated his appeal for the release of Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a Chinese civil rights activist who is currently serving out an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power."

Mr. Obama, who was awarded the prize in 2009, noted that "Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was," and called for him to be freed "as soon as possible."

"We respect China's extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty, and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want," Mr. Obama said in the statement. "But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible."

Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic and professor, was announced as the recipient of the prize this October despite apparent political pressure by the Chinese government for the Norwegian Nobel Institute to award it to someone else.

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Neither Liu nor his wife - who, like many of Liu's supporters, has recently been placed under house arrest - were released to attend the Friday awards ceremony in his honor, marking the first time in 74 years that the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize was not able to receive his award. (Carl von Ossietzky, a vocal anti-Hitler German pacifist, was awarded the prize in 1935 - but was unable to accept it. He was, at the time, interned in a German concentration camp under Hitler's rule.)

Liu's absence was noted with an empty chair in his honor.

US President Barack Obama, right is applauded by Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in the Main Hall of Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

"I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year," Mr. Obama's statement read, of Liu's absence. "Today, on what is also International Human Rights Day, we should redouble our efforts to advance universal values for all human beings."

The Associated Press reports that CNN and BBC News both went black in Beijing at 8pm, when the ceremony in Oslo was taking place. The AP notes, too, that the Chinese government pressured a number of foreign diplomats not to attend the event.

Wan Yanhai, a Chinese dissident and the only activist out of 140 invited by Liu's wife able to attend, lamented Liu's absence there.

"I believe many people will cry, because everything he has done did not do any harm to the country and the people in the world," Wan told the AP. "He just fulfilled his responsibility. But he suffered a lot of pain for his speeches, journals and advocacy of rights."

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said of Liu's inability to attend, "This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate."

"It is no coincidence that nearly all the richest countries in the world are democratic, because democracy mobilizes new human and technological resources," he continued. "China's new status entails increased responsibility. China must be prepared for criticism, and regard it as a positive, as an opportunity for improvement."

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.