UPDATE 2-Chinese Nobel winner dodges call for laureate's freedom

Alistair Scrutton
Reuters Middle East

* Mo Yan steers clear of call for Liu freedom

* Award of prize puts Chinese writer in rights spotlight

STOCKHOLM, Dec 6 (Reuters) - A flustered Mo Yan, the Chinese

winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, steered clear of

human rights issues and refused on Thursday to back a petition

by fellow laureates for jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize

winner Liu Xiaobo.

A group of 134 Nobel laureates including the Dalai Lama,

wrote to Chinese Communist Party chief and president-in-waiting

Xi Jinping urging him to release Liu, who won the prize two

years ago. They also want Xi to free Liu's wife.

The case has drawn attention to China's human rights record,

although China says Liu is a criminal and decries such criticism

as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.

Mo, the first Chinese national to win the $1.2 million

literature prize who was in Stockholm to receive the award,

refused to express support for Liu, and sometimes appeared

agitated after repeated questions over Liu at a news conference.

The writer also defended censorship as sometimes necessary,

comparing it to security checks at airports.

"I have already issued my opinion about this matter (over

Liu)," he told journalists in Stockholm through a translator,

days ahead of the formal award ceremony.

In October, after the award announcement, Mo said he hoped

that Liu would achieve his freedom as soon as possible.

"I have said this prize is about literature. Not for

politics," said the 57-year-old whose adopted pen name Mo Yan

means "don't speak".


Despite world attention on days of Nobel prize events in

Stockholm, Mo shunned any chance of making a clear call for

Liu's freedom.

"I am sure you know what I said that day (in October). Why

do you want to repeat that? Time is precious," he said when

pressed over Liu.

"I have never praised a system of censorship, but also

censorship exists in every country," he added. "There is only a

difference of a degree of censorship."

Pressed on whether he would support the call from the

laureates, Mo said: "I have always been independent. I like it

that way ... when I am forced to express my opinion, I will not

do it."

Mo was being accompanied on his Stockholm trip by a Chinese

official, raising questions over whether the author was under

pressure not to say anything about politics.

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.

Hu Jia, one of China's most prominent dissidents, told

Reuters he was "very disappointed" by Mo's statements on


"Could he not just say one sentence in his (Liu's) support?"

Hu said.

In November, Herta Muller, who won the Nobel literature

prize in 2009, called the Nobel award for Liu a "catastrophe".

Liu, a veteran dissident involved in 1989 pro-democracy

protests crushed by the Chinese army, won the prize in 2010. He

had been jailed the year before 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 into a film directed by Zhang Yimou.

His books also include "Big Breasts and Wide Hips" and "The

Republic of Wine".

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