Empty chair protest at Nobel peace prize ceremony

Sunday, November 21, 2010

LONDON - A Chinese dissident in the US plans to send a message by placing “two empty chairs on the stage” during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed pro-democracy Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo.

Yang Jianli, a Chinese veteran of the Tiananmen protests of 1989, is acting as a go between in the preparations for the Nobel peace prize award ceremony in Oslo next month.

Beijing has been outraged that jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo was chosen for the peace prize. Liu is serving 11 years in prison for “inciting the subversion of state power”.

According to The Sunday Observer, Yang, a Harvard-based campaigner for democracy and a friend of Liu, is of the opinion that his empty chair Dec 10 will send a message more powerful than any speech or slogan.

The jailed man’s wife had asked Yang to work with the Nobel committee to prepare for the ceremony.

“We will be having at least two empty seats on the stage. But those empty seats will speak loudly and will serve as a reminder to the whole world of the situation in China,” The Observer quoted Yang as saying.

He said: “Because of the decision of the Nobel peace prize committee, the game has changed both internationally and domestically.

“We will have the spotlight on the Chinese government and apply pressure on them so that they may reconsider their decisions on Liu Xiaobo and (his wife) Liu Xia,” he added.

Yang said that though Liu will not attend the event, an actor presenter will read from his writings, the report stated.

Yang asked China to change its attitude towards the peace prize.

“The award is not meant as an insult, but is in fact an honour even for people in the Chinese government. It is a golden opportunity for the political opening up of China. We cannot afford to miss it. There is still an opportunity to change. I still have hope for that. But I do not rely on it.”

Yang, who hasn’t heard from Liu Xia since Oct 21, fears for her safety.

“We have been totally cut off. We don’t know her situation. She must be under tremendous pressure. It is totally unfair.”

He firmly believes that Nobel prize had been the biggest boost to the pro-democracy movement.

“I am always optimistic. On the surface you can only see the hardening of China’s attitude, but the real change is in people’s hearts. You can feel the change already in China,” The Observer quoted him as saying.

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