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PM’s Presser: No praise for jailed Nobel winner

PM’s Presser: No praise for Nobel winner in Chinese jail

John Key says he has no words of congratulation for a Chinese political prisoner who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, but denies any pressure from the Chinese government.

The prime minister Monday declined to comment on the win by Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist serving eleven years in a high-security prison for “inciting subversion of state power”.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Saturday they sought to recognise a “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”.

“Article 35 of China's constitution lays down that ‘Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration’,” the committee’s statement read.

“In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens.”

Liu’s involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the publication of Charter 08, a manifesto of human rights in China, had made him a symbol of the struggle for human rights and stressed the connection between human rights and peace, the committee said.

Since Saturday foreign dignitaries including US president Barack Obama, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, British foreign secretary William Hague and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner have joined in congratulating Liu and calling for his release.

Liu’s nomination for the award has been a flashpoint between the Chinese government and western nations in recent months – but Key told reporters at Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference he had never been briefed on the issue.

“I’m not aware of why he’s in jail and it’s not for me to comment about what’s appropriate in terms of a country’s putting people in those facilities.”

Key said he would take advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade but could not guarantee any kind of public statement on the matter.

Key’s silence would not be the first instance of New Zealand governments skirting the subject of human rights issues with China -- New Zealand’s second largest trading partner.

In June Key apologised to Vice-President Xi Jingping for a protest by Green MP Russel Norman on Parliament grounds – despite footage which showed members of Jingping’s security detail grabbing Norman and stripping him of his Tibetan flag.

In 2007 then-deputy prime minister Michael Cullen said it was “unfortunate” that parliamentary reporter Nick Wang had been barred from attending a press conference in the Beehive on instructions from a Chinese official.

Cullen later defended China’s decision to bar Wang from attending New Zealand’s free trade talks in China, comparing Wang to holocaust denier David Irving.

And in 1999 then-Prime Minister Jenny Shipley declined to comment on police interfering with demonstrators during a visit by then-President Jiang Zemin.

But Key denied the situation was diplomatically difficult, repeating that he simply had not been briefed on it.

He did not congratulate Nobel peace prize winners as a general rule, he said.

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