(Oct. 8) -- Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who is less than a year into an 11-year prison sentence for "subverting state power," won the Nobel Peace Prize today -- much to the chagrin of his communist government.
Shortly after the announcement, Liu's wife told Reuters during a phone interview that plainclothes police had arrived at her home to take her away to the prison where her husband is being held so that she wouldn't be able to talk to reporters. "They are forcing me to leave Beijing," Liu Xia told the news agency. " ... They want to distance me from the media."
Iconic images of the chain-smoking, leather-jacketed Liu, who shot to fame as an adviser to the student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, have become symbols of a feisty home-grown human rights campaign that China's authoritarian regime has sought to snuff out.
An infuriated Chinese Foreign Ministry called the international award "an obscenity," according to Reuters. The Nobel announcement was blacked out on Chinese TV stations.
Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and a rare recipient of the award while behind bars. The Nobel Committee said the 54-year-old Liu deserved the prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
The former literature professor now banned from teaching is the co-author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform and human rights in China, which was backed by hundreds of academics, lawyers and intellectuals.
Liu's recognition puts the spotlight on China's human rights record at a time when the country's power and influence are growing as a result of its booming economy. Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it's appropriate for China to come under increasing scrutiny as its power grows.
"We have to speak when others cannot speak," Jagland told reporters. "As China is rising, we should have the right to criticize. ... We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic."
On Christmas Day, Liu was sentenced to prison for at least the third time. He previously did time for his role in the Tiananmen protests, including three years in a forced labor camp for speaking out against China's one-party system. That camp is where he met his wife.
It's unclear whether Liu has heard the news of his prize. In an earlier interview before her reported detention, Liu Xia told CNN she can't wait to visit him in prison in northern China to tell him, and said she thinks he will feel "surprised and humbled," but also feel "a greater sense of responsibilities" because of the honor.
"I am totally shocked and feel so happy," she said. "I've never dreamed about this. ... It's an affirmation of what he has fought for."
"I feel as though I have been swept over by a hundred different emotions," she told the Toronto Star .
China had warned Norway not to award the prize to Liu, saying he didn't qualify for the honor. Experts say China could react to today's move by intensifying its already brutal crackdown on dissidents like Liu, or by lengthening his prison sentence.
"This is an obscenity against the peace prize," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement. "The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award individuals who promote international harmony and friendship, peace and disarmament," the ministry said, according to ABC News. "Liu Xiaobo is a criminal."
Other ethnic Chinese notables have won a Nobel before, but Liu is the first Chinese citizen to do so. The Dalai Lama won the peace prize in 1989, but he has status as a refugee outside China. Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, but he is a French citizen.
The Dalai Lama said Liu's Nobel represents international "recognition of the increasing voices among the Chinese people in pushing China towards political, legal and constitutional reforms."
"I believe in the years ahead, future generations of Chinese will be able to enjoy the fruits of the efforts that the current Chinese citizens are making towards responsible governance," the Buddhist leader told CNN.
The Nobel Peace Prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million) and will be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10. It's unclear who will accept the award on Liu's behalf while he remains jailed.
On the Nobel website, well-wishers posted congratulations to Liu, including some who said they were from China. Liu himself once dubbed the Internet "God's gift to China" because of how it's allowed dissidents to share information in an otherwise closed country, Al-Jazeera noted.
"Congratulations from China. My friends all feel delighted to hear that news," wrote one user.
"Best wish to Mr. Liu. The power of people and history will bring fairness finally, and your effort will be memorized by people and history!" wrote another tagged Tang Zhewen.