Human Rights Is Big Winner in Nobel Peace Prize Selection

By Thor Halvorssen

OSLO, Norway -- Liu Xiaobo could not be more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. An eloquent writer and passionate human rights defender, he was chosen by the Nobel Committee for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." His embattled commitment to freedom embodies the ongoing movement against Chinese tyranny. Imprisoned since December of 2008, Liu's crime was to organize the Charter 08 document -- a manifesto signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and activists that petitioned Beijing for greater freedom and human rights. Published on December 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Charter 08 was inspired by the Charter 77 movement that Václav Havel led during then-Czechoslovakia's struggle with dictatorship.

Through Charter 08 Liu demanded freedom of expression, free and fair elections, freedom of association, an independent judiciary, freedom of religion, and other fundamental human rights for the Chinese people. His advocacy makes him a perfect Laureate -- to paraphrase Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, there is an inexorable connection between human rights and peace.

In a public statement issued at his sentencing, Liu said he has "long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison... now I am taking that step; and true freedom is that much nearer." Liu's heroism is all the more extraordinary as he knew what the Communist Party's reaction would be from personal experience. He had been imprisoned for two years after protesting at Tiananmen Square, and later sent to a "reeducation" camp in 1996, after publicly questioning Chinese government policy. Between his time in the work camps and the publication of Charter 08, Liu was exposed to untold amounts of harassment and surveillance.

The Nobel Committee chose wisely and should be congratulated for bringing needed attention to the cruelty of a regime that has violated human rights and shattered peace for more than 60 years. The Chinese leadership is in the midst of a sustained and multifaceted war on human rights, best illustrated by its imperial attempts to subjugate Tibetans and Uyghurs, its Orwellian surveillance and censorship machinery, its political reeducation programs, its total lack of democracy, the routine use of torture and execution in the Chinese legal system, and the eight million languishing in the Laogai -- China's vast prison camp network.

In the past few years as the Nobel has gone to environmentalists, political activists, and public office holders, it is refreshing, encouraging, and about time that the prize once again has gone to a human rights advocate. Especially one in such need of global support and attention.

Thor Halvorssen is president of the Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.