STOCKHOLM Mo Yan, the Chinese winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, on Thursday declined to issue a direct call for the release of jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and said he would not back a petition for his freedom.
A group of 134 Nobel laureates including the Dalai Lama, wrote to Chinese Communist Party chief and president-in-waiting Xi Jinping urging that he release detained Liu, who won the prize two years ago, and his wife.
The case has drawn attention to China's human rights record, although China itself says that Liu is a criminal and decries such criticism as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
Mo, a portly 57-year-old whose adopted pen name Mo Yan means "don't speak", refused to express support for Liu.
"I have already issued my opinion about this matter," he told a news conference in Stockholm days ahead of the formal award ceremony.
"I have said this prize is about literature. Not for politics," he added.
In October, after the award announcement, Mo said he hoped that Liu would achieve his freedom as soon as possible.
"I am sure you know what I said that day (in October). Why do you want to repeat that? Time is precious," he said.
Pressed on whether he would support the call from the 134 laureates, Mo said he had "always been independent".
"I like it that way ... when I am forced to express my opinion, I will not do it," he said.
A number of dissidents and other writers have said Mo was unworthy of winning as he had shied away from commenting on Liu's plight. They have also denounced him for commemorating a speech by former paramount leader Mao Zedong.
Liu, a veteran dissident involved in 1989 pro-democracy protests crushed by the Chinese army, won the prize in 2010. He was jailed the year earlier and is serving an 11-year sentence. His wife Liu Xia is under house arrest.
Mo is best known in the West for "Red Sorghum", which portrays the hardships endured by farmers in the early years of communist rule and was made in a film directed by Zhang Yimou.
His books also include "Big Breasts and Wide Hips" and "The Republic of Wine".
(Reporting by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Toby Chopra)