Nobel panel may not hand out Liu's peace prize

The Nobel Peace Prize may not be handed out this year because China is not likely to let anyone from imprisoned award-winner Liu Xiaobo's family attend the ceremony, a Nobel official said, calling China's diplomatic pressure this year unprecedented.

Outraged by the award, Beijing has reportedly clamped down on Liu's relatives and pressured other countries not to send representatives to the Dec. 10 award ceremony in Oslo.

Ambassadors from Russia, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Iraq have all declined invitations to the ceremony but didn't specify the reasons, Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"For an embassy to actively try to persuade other embassies to not participate in the ceremony is something new," Lundestad said.

The prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.4 million) award can only be collected by the laureate or close family members.

Liu, a Chinese dissident, is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China's one-party political system. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest and subject to police escort since the award was announced last month.

Lundestad said no other relatives have announced plans to come to Oslo for the ceremony.

"The way it looks now, it is not likely that someone from his close family will attend," Lundestad said. "Then we will not give out the medal and the diploma during the ceremony."

The committee's chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, also said the prize will probably not be awarded.

It's not very likely that anyone else can come to Oslo so no one will be able to receive the prize," he told The Associated Press before a speaking engagement at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "But he will be present during the ceremony by a reading of his text."

If that happens, it will be the first time since 1936, when there was no one present to accept the medal and diploma for German journalist Carl von Ossietzky, who was seriously ill and not allowed to leave Nazi Germany. However, a representative of Ossietzky received the prize money only, Lundestad said.

The Nobel committee has skipped selecting a winner altogether in some years, including during World War II.

Lundestad said the committee has not lost hope that someone from Liu's family can attend the ceremony.

"If someone shows up at the last minute, it will not be a problem to change plans," he said.

Liu Xiaobo has three brothers, the most well-known being Liu Xiaoxuan, the youngest. A Hong Kong-based human rights group has reported that two of the brothers, as well as Liu Xiaobo's brother-in-law Liu Tong, have been unable to visit Liu in prison despite repeated requests.

Friends of the couple say all of Liu's closest family members are under tight police surveillance aimed at preventing them from attending the ceremony. Liu Xiaoxuan has also been told by his employer not to go, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

When reached by phone Thursday, Liu Xiaoxuan said he was not allowed to accept interviews.

Lundestad said 36 ambassadors have accepted the invitation to the ceremony and 16 ambassadors have not yet replied. Some of them have asked for more time to decide, he said.

The Chinese Embassy has returned all Nobel correspondence unopened, he added.

Russian Embassy spokesman Vladimir Isupov said the Russian ambassador would not be in Norway at the time of the award ceremony. "It is not politically motivated, and we do not feel we are pressured by China," he said.

Besides the award ceremony, the peace prize program includes a banquet on Dec. 10 and a concert held in the laureate's honor the next day.

Organizers said Thursday the concert will be co-hosted by actors Anne Hathaway and Denzel Washington and feature performances by Barry Manilow, Jamiroquai, A.R. Rahman and Elvis Costello among others.


Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Beijing and Russell Contreras in Cambridge, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.