Beijing — China said on Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo amounted to “blasphemy” and lodged protests with several countries, including the US, for making “irresponsible statements” on the death of the prominent dissident.
Liu, China’s best-known human rights prisoner, died on Thursday at age 61 following a battle with liver cancer. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent his last eight years as a prisoner of conscience died at a hospital in Shenyang, China.
He was granted medical parole in June after receiving his diagnosis in prison, but China did not let him seek treatment abroad despite Liu’s wishes and international pressure.
Liu’s death led to international criticism of China’s handling of the issue. The leader of the Norwegian Nobel committee Berit Reiss-Andersen said the Chinese government bore a “heavy responsibility” for Liu’s death.
Answering a barrage of questions on Friday over the death of Liu, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had lodged protests with “certain countries” for interfering in its “judicial sovereignty”.
“Liu is a prisoner who was sentenced to imprisonment in accordance with Chinese law…Conferring the prize to such a person goes against the purposes of this award. It’s a blasphemy of the peace prize,” Geng said, referring to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu in 2010.
“China is a rule of law country and everyone is equal before law. Anyone who violates the law will be punished and remarks by certain countries constitutes interference in China’s internal affairs. That goes against the spirit of international law,” Geng said at a regular news conference.
China has lodged a protest with the US to show its dissatisfaction following remarks from Washington about Liu’s death, he added.
Geng specially targeted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein for his statement that Liu “devoted his life to defending and promoting human rights, peacefully and consistently, and who was jailed for standing up for his beliefs.”
The UNHCR chief “should respect the judicial sovereignty of China and not interfering in China’s internal affairs. He should fulfil his duties in objective and fair manner. I can tell you that we also made representation with him for his above-mentioned remarks,” Geng said.
Liu had been transferred from prison last month, where he was serving an 11-year term for “subversion”.
Geng also said China would not make a prejudgement about whether Liu’s widow, Liu Xia, who has been kept under house arrest since 2010, would be allowed to go overseas as demanded by several countries and human rights groups.
“As for situation of Lu Xia I am not aware of that. I can tell you that China is a rule of law country. We will handle relevant case in accordance with law,” he said.
Liu Xia, whose current whereabouts are unknown, is said to be suffering from depression after spending years under house arrest and heavy surveillance. She was allowed to visit her husband in hospital.
Germany, UK, France, the US and Taiwan have called for China to allow Liu Xia to travel and leave the country if she wishes.
Responding to the issue, Geng said, “We have lodged representations with the countries that made irresponsible remarks.”
He said that Beijing had lodged protests with Germany, France and the UN’s human rights high commissioner following criticism over its handling of Liu’s death.
Asked whether Liu’s death has badly dented China’s image as he was second Nobel laurate to die in prison after first such incident took place in 1938 under Nazi Germany, Geng said “China’s status and image is all there to see”.
“Some irresponsible comments and remarks cannot represent whole international community,” he said and referred to the situation in the West Asia.
“If you look at today’s Middle East, does this need so called preachers of human rights to reflect on what they have done,” he said.
He once again defended Chinese foreign ministry’s move to delete all questions and references to Liu from the official transcripts of the press conferences posted on its website, saying that like media, it is prerogative of the ministry to post the material it chooses appropriate.
Meanwhile, responding to Liu’s death, Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, commented that he was a man of fierce intellect, principle, wit and above all humanity.
“Today we grieve the loss of a giant of human rights,” Shetty said.
“For decades, he fought tirelessly to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms in China. He did so in the face of the most relentless and often brutal opposition from the Chinese government,” he said in a statement.
The death of Liu lays bare the Chinese government’s ruthlessness toward peaceful proponents of human rights and democracy, Human Rights Watch said.
“Even as Liu Xiaobo’s illness worsened, the Chinese government continued to isolate him and his family, and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment,” said Sophie Richardson, China director of HRW.
“The Chinese government’s arrogance, cruelty, and callousness are shocking – but Liu’s struggle for a rights-respecting, democratic China will live on,” she said in a statement.