An Appeal for Inviting President Havel to the Nobel Ceremony 2010

Dear Ms. Five and Mr. Jagland, Your Honor,

We are writing to congratulate the Nobel Committee for its decision to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. This was a wise and courageous decision, and we applaud the Nobel Committee for taking it.[:]

We greatly regret that Liu Xiaobo will not be able to come to Oslo in person to receive the Prize because he has been unjustly imprisoned for speaking and writing what he believes to be true. And we are also aware that his wife, Liu Xia, is unable to receive the Prize on his behalf because she has been placed under house arrest. We are nonetheless confident that this unconscionable behavior on the part of the Chinese authorities will not detract from the enormous significance that is attached to Liu Xiaobo’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, which is a tribute to his courage and moral authority. Your decision to leave an empty chair on the podium where Liu or his wife would have sat is, under the circumstances, an appropriate way to dramatize their forced absence from the Nobel ceremony.

What we fail to understand is the expected absence of someone else who can and should be there. We are speaking of Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic. It is well known that President Havel has a very special relationship to Liu Xiaobo and the cause he represents. It was Havel who led the campaign for Liu Xiaobo to receive this year’s prize, in one instance dramatizing the link between their two democratic charters —  his own Charter 77 and the Chinese Charter 08 which it inspired – by presenting an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao demanding Liu’s release from prison on January 6, 2010, the 33rd anniversary of the day he was arrested for delivering Charter 77 to the Prague Castle.

We are informed that President Havel was on the original list of guests invited by Liu Xia, but that the Nobel Committee is of the view that his presence might divert the focus of attention at the Nobel ceremony from the honoring of Liu Xiaobo. On the contrary, it is President Havel’s absence from the ceremony that will divert attention, inevitably raising questions about why there is a second empty chair when there doesn’t have to be one. We are aware that President Havel is in frail health. But we are also informed that he would be prepared to attend the Nobel ceremony if he were invited to do so. We urge you to issue this invitation without delay. Should it be necessary to create a place for President Havel on the list of invited guests, any one of us would be happy to withdraw so that he could come.  We thank you for giving this matter your urgent attention.

Sincerely yours,

Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Justice, Canada

Carl Gershman, President, the National Endowment for Democracy

Heidi Hautala, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, European Parliament

Xiaorong Li, International Director, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Perry Link, University of California Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines

Adam Michnik, Editor, Gazeta Wyborcza

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Xiaokang Su, writer, former editor of Democracy China

Katrina Lantos Swett, President, the Lantos Foundation

Jianli Yang, Chair, Initiatives for China

Zhang Zuhua, co-writer and organizer of Charter 08, intellectual, activist, Beijing, China