The recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was not in Oslo to receive his award. Instead, Liu Xiaobo--a Chinese writer, professor, husband, and human rights activist--was staring at the four walls of his prison cell in Liaoning, China. Quite symbolically, an empty chair took his place at the prestigious ceremony.
Liu is a prisoner of conscience. He was thrown in prison under unfounded charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for his part in co-authoring Charter 08, a charter calling for political reform, human rights, and an end to the one-party rule in China.
The charter, signed by over three hundred Chinese intellectuals and activists, owes its widespread circulation to none other than the internet, a powerful tool that Liu calls “God’s gift to China”.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu marked the end of more than a century of Chinese exclusion from the award. So why Liu? Why now? Liu is more than a figure of personal strength and sacrifice for freedom and justice in China, he is also a symbol of the power of the internet. Liu has shown that the internet not only connects people across oceans and distant lands, it also does not bow to repressive governments. Honoring Liu with the Nobel Prize meant honoring columnists, bloggers, and journalists everywhere who stand up tall in the face of oppression. Honoring Liu meant honoring internet activism, a kind of activism whose potential is yet to be seen.