Empty chair takes spotlight at Nobel prize gala

OSLO (Reuters) - The focus of attention at Friday’s Nobel ceremony was not a proud laureate, overwhelmed at receiving what many people regard as the world’s most prestigious prize. It was his empty chair.

The Nobel Peace laureate, dissident Liu Xiaobo who has called for democracy and human rights in China, is serving an 11-year jail term in his home country.

With his wife Liu Xia and other relatives unable to travel abroad, the Nobel peace laureate was not formally represented at the ceremony for the first time in 75 years.

On the stage inside Oslo’s mural-clad City Hall, alongside the seated Norwegian Nobel Committee members, Liu’s chair stood empty until panel chief Thorbjoern Jagland solemnly placed the Nobel diploma on it, to a standing ovation from 1,000 guests.

“Tears came to my eyes at that moment,” said Lu Jing Hua, 50, a friend of Liu Xiaobo and one of about 50 Chinese dissidents living outside China invited to the gala. “I feel very happy because everyone knows now who Liu Xiaobo is and this prize is a great honor for him.

“But I am so sad because he is not here to receive it.”

Actress Liv Ullmann read out the final statement Liu made at his trial in December 2009 on charges of subversion against the state.

“I have no enemies and no hatred,” Ullmann read, as Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja listened. “None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies.”

Ullman then read out words of love Liu expressed for his wife, who is believed to have been under house arrest in China since October.

“Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window ... Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.”

Once the ceremony was over, a number of Chinese dissidents took pictures on the podium and underneath the picture of a smiling Liu Xiaobo. Nobody sat in his chair.