HONG KONG Hundreds of people marched in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand China free dissident Liu Xiaobo, a week before the human rights activist is formally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.
Holding banners reading "Free Liu Xiaobo" and singing for his release to the strumming of guitars, nearly one thousand marched to Beijing's liaison office in support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is the first Chinese recipient of the accolade.
China denounced Liu's award as an "obscenity" and sparked a torrent of diplomatic scorn toward Norway, with Beijing pressuring diplomats to boycott the ceremony.
Sunday's protesters, closely watched by police, erected a net outside the building to which they tied ribbons symbolizing their support for Liu while condemning "oppressive" Chinese authorities.
"Shame on the Chinese Communist Party," shouted Hong Kong lawmaker and activist Leung Kwok-hung.
Many protesters also criticized China for imposing house arrest on Liu's wife, Liu Xia, and barring other prominent dissidents and rights campaigners from leaving the country in recent weeks, fearful they might attend the lavish awards ceremony which normally involves presentation of medals and an acceptance speech for laureates.
"The Chinese government is still very much oppressing the rights of Liu Xiaobo, his wife and other dissidents in China," Hong Kong lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan told Reuters at the rally.
"China's international image will be damaged if it doesn't release Liu and his wife," he added.
Liu, a 54-year-old activist, writer and poet, is believed to be the fifth laureate in the 109-year history of the prize not able to attend the award ceremony for political reasons, though a symbolic empty chair will be used to represent him instead.
Lee, the Hong Kong lawmaker, who will travel to Oslo for the ceremony, said he and around 100 prominent exiled Chinese dissidents and supporters from around the world, planned to hold protests outside the Chinese embassy and support rallies around the Norwegian capital in the run-up to the prizegiving.
Liu is an intellectual and co-author of "Charter 08," a petition calling for sweeping political reforms and freedoms, putting him at odds with stability-obsessed authorities who sentenced him to 11-years imprisonment last Christmas day on several charges, including subversion, that Liu has denied.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Stefanie McIntyre)