The decision to award Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize is "heartening," the head of the World Council of Churches has said.
General Secretary Dr. Olav Fkyse Tveit said in a statement Thursday that this year's prize sends a "strong message of support" to people around the world who are struggling for freedom, development and dignity for all.
"I consider this recognition of Liu Xiaobo to be an affirmation and acknowledgment of growing respect for human dignity and freedom around the world," he said. "It also signifies and underscores the essential parameters that are needed to ensure development, peace and reconciliation among peoples and nations."
Liu, 54, was one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protest against the Chinese government in 1984. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence under house arrest for "inciting subversion of state power" after he drafted Charter 08, a document demanding political reform and respect for human rights in China.
The Chinese government has reacted with fury to the Nobel Prize committee's decision to award a "criminal." It said the decision is "encouraging crime" in China.
Western governments and activists at home and abroad have put pressure on the Chinese government to release Liu and change its stance on human rights.
In an open letter, a group of 100 scholars, journalists and activists called upon the Chinese government to release "all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are in detention for reasons such as their speech, their political views, or their religious beliefs."
"We ask that legal procedures aimed at freeing Liu Xiaobo be undertaken without delay, and that Liu and his wife be permitted to travel to Oslo to accept the Nobel peace prize," the group said.
They added that China would only become a great nation if it showed it was "capable of playing a positive and responsible role on the world stage."
"China should join the mainstream of civilized humanity by embracing universal values," they said.
There is skepticism however that the government will respond to their pleas soon. There have been reports that signatories of Charter 08 are facing police harassment, including threatening phone calls and surveillance.
Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, wrote on her Twitter page late last night that the leader of the Tiananmen Mothers group, Ding Zilin, has "disappeared."
Zilin's son was one of the victims in the Chinese government's suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1984. She has since campaigned for human rights and an apology from the Chinese government for the Tiananmen Square massacre.