An empty chair will represent jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony unless Beijing allows him or his wife to attend, a friend said Friday.
Yang Jianli, a prominent Chinese democracy activist who is coordinating between the Nobel committee and dissidents, said all sides would keep pressing China to free wife Liu Xia from house arrest and let her travel to Oslo.
But if not, the Nobel committee is prepared to make the unprecedented gesture of setting a single empty chair on the stage during the December 10 ceremony, Yang said.
“An empty seat for the laureate would serve as a reminder to the world that Liu Xiaobo is himself languishing in prison and, more broadly, that the human rights situation in China should be a concern to the international community,” Yang told AFP.
Yang, a student activist during the crushed Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, himself spent five years in prison and now lives in Boston. He is close to both Liu Xiaobo and his wife.
Yang said that Liu told his wife in their sole encounter after the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize that he wanted her to accept the award on his behalf.
“That is obviously his wish so we will not give up his efforts,” Yang said.
A Norwegian actress would also read from Yang’s writings at the ceremony, Yang said.
Liu, a writer, was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison on subversion charges after co-authoring “Charter 08,” a manifesto that spread quickly on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in China.
China has accused Norway of undermining relations and encouraging a “criminal.” China has also pressured nations not to attend the Nobel ceremony.
Six countries — China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco and Iraq — have told the Nobel Institute they would not take part.
However, the Nobel Institute said US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the third highest official under the constitution — would come to Oslo, in unusually high representation for a ceremony usually attended by ambassadors.
“Nancy Pelosi said yes,” Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad told AFP in Oslo.
“She will be the most prominent representative from the American side,” he added.
Pelosi, whose congressional district includes San Francisco’s Chinatown, has long been outspoken about human rights in China.
It will be one of the last functions for Pelosi before she leaves her post in January following the defeat of her and President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party in November elections.
Liu Xia was originally allowed up to 30 guests at the ceremony. But Yang expected more than 100 dissidents including himself to go to Oslo at their own initiative.
Wan Yanha, a Chinese AIDS activist who recently fled to the United States, told AFP separately that he will go to Oslo but rejected suggestions he could accept the prize for Liu.
Polish opposition icon Lech Walesa earlier said that he was ready to accept the award on Liu’s behalf along with other former Nobel Peace Prize winners.
With neither Liu nor any of his close relatives able to attend, the Nobel Peace Prize will not be handed over during the ceremony for only the second time in its history.
The last time that happened was in 1936.
Radical German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, awarded the Peace Prize in 1935, could not attend because he was interned in a Nazi concentration camp. In obscure circumstances, a German lawyer showed up and pocketed his prize.
Von Ossietzky died three years later in a hospital under surveillance by authorities from health problems related to his incarceration.
Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest when she won the prize in 1991 but her teenage sons, who are half British, accepted on her behalf.
The junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, freed Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this month, leaving Liu as the only detained Nobel laureate.