OSLO - Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award "an obscenity".
The prize puts China's human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" and reiterated its belief in a "close connection between human rights and peace."
Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.
China said the award went against the aims of Alfred Nobel and would hurt ties between China and Norway, which are currently negotiating a bilateral trade agreement.
"This is an obscenity against the peace prize," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.
But Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said China, the world's second biggest economy, should expect to be under greater scrutiny as it becomes more powerful, just as the United States was after World War Two.
"We have to speak when others cannot speak," Jagland told reporters. "As China is rising, we should have the right to criticise ... We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic."
PRIZE FOR ALL
Liu's wife, Xia, said she had not expected her husband to win the prize: "I can hardly believe it because my life has been filled with too many bad things.
"This prize is not only for Xiaobo but for everyone working for human rights and justice in China," she said in an emotional telephone interview with Hong Kong's Cable television.
Rights groups said the prize came at a time when human rights have dropped down the agenda of Western governments focusing on China's growing economic power.
Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, called it "a victory for all the courageous Chinese dissidents, activists, lawyers and human rights defenders who have continued to stand up to tyranny for all these years".
Earlier this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying had warned the head of the Nobel Institute against granting the prize to Liu, saying it would damage ties between China and Norway as they negotiate a bilateral trade deal.
China strongly criticised Norway after the 1989 prize went to Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The last dissident to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Iranian lawyer and human rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi in 2003.
JAILED FOR SUBVERSION
Liu was jailed for 11 years last December for subversion of state power, a year after being arrested as lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto by Chinese intellectuals and activists calling for democratic reform in the one-party state.
The former literature professor rose to prominence as a strike leader during protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
He was later jailed for 20 months and then spent three years in a "labour re-education" camp during the 1990s, as well as months under virtual house arrest.
China's foreign ministry said last month that Liu's actions were "diametrically opposed to the aims of the Nobel Prize".
The Nobel Committee, whose members are selected by Norway's parliament, said the human rights sought by Liu were consistent with the "fraternity between nations" clause in Alfred Nobel's will, which sets out the guidelines on picking laureates.
The prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) and will be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10. It was not immediately known who would collect the prize if Liu could not do so.
Liu Xia said she planned to visit her husband in jail on Saturday. "I will give him a big hug." (Editing by Kevin Liffey)
© 2016 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.