OSLO It is unclear who will accept the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and the Norwegian Nobel Committee may keep custody of it for the time being, its secretary said on Friday.
China has strongly condemned the choice of the pro-democracy activist to receive the accolade and is unlikely to release Liu or allow his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest, to travel to Oslo.
At a ceremony held annually in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death in 1896, the laureate normally gives a speech and receives the medal, which is accompanied by an award of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million).
"We don't know who will pick it up and I don't think we will know any time soon," Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
"It's very unlikely that the laureate will come and there is no word on what will happen to his wife," added Lundestad, a non-voting member of the committee.
Liu Xia said earlier this month her husband had asked her to collect the award but Beijing is unlikely to let her out.
The New York-based group Human Rights in China said on Friday dozens of Chinese dissidents and human rights activists remained under house arrest as a wary Chinese government sought to stifle support for Liu.
China has canceled ministerial-level meetings with Norway, which it holds responsible for the independent committee's decision. Earlier this week, a cyber attack from a server in Taiwan disabled the Norwegian Nobel Institute's website.
Lundestad said the Nobel Institute had only "indirect contacts" with Liu's wife and if doubts remained over who could pick up the award in Liu's name, the Nobel Committee might decide to keep the medal until the situation clarified.
"We'll wait if we feel the issue is not resolved in a satisfactory way. We will hold on to the medal until another occasion," he said.
Several previous laureates have been unable to collect their medals. In 1991, the son of imprisoned Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi picked up her Nobel medal and in 1983 Polish democracy campaigner Lech Walesa's award was received by his wife. (Editing by Andrew Dobbie)