BEIJING - Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident imprisoned last year for subversion, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for spearheading a campaign for more freedom in China.
The Nobel committee said Mr. Liu, 54, deserved the prize "for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
Analysts said the honor was aimed at pressuring China to ease its crackdown on religious and political activists.
China's government denounced the award as "a desecration" and said the honor should have gone to someone focused on promoting international friendship and disarmament.
"Liu Xiaobo is a sentenced criminal who has violated Chinese law," a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said.
The spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said honoring Mr. Liu "runs counter to the principles of the Nobel Peace Prize."
President Obama, who won the peace prize last year, praised the selection and called on China to release Mr. Liu.
The Nobel committee "has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and nonviolent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law," Mr. Obama said.
Although China has made "dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people" over the past 30 years, "this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman, and child must be respected," he said.
The Nobel committee lauded Mr. Liu's efforts over more than two decades to demand freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and other forms of expression for Chinese citizens.
China's "new status" as the world's second-largest economy "must entail increased responsibility," the committee said.
It said Beijing must heed the call of Mr. Liu and others to award its citizens the most basic democratic freedoms.
"Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China," the Nobel statement said.Chinese state media blacked out the news, and Chinese government censors blocked Nobel Prize reports from Internet Web sites.
China declared the decision would harm its relations with Norway and promptly summoned Oslo's ambassador to Beijing to make a formal protest.
Norwegian officials explained that the peace prize committee is independent of the government and that Norway wants to maintain good relations with China.
Mr. Liu is serving his 11-year sentence at Jinzhou prison in Liaoning, hundreds of miles from his home and wife, Liu Xia, in Beijing.
Shortly before the announcement, Liu Xia said she was thankful her husband's physical condition seems to have improved in jail and was grateful that he's allowed to read and that the two can exchange regular letters.
Mr. Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the award.
Another Nobel peace prize winner, the Dalai Lama, also called upon China to free Mr. Liu.
Mr. Liu's latest sentence was his longest.
His specific crime was that he volunteered to have his name lead a list of signatories to a document called "Charter 08."
Modeled after the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, Charter 08 called for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and elections.
More than 8,000 people signed China's charter.
Mr. Liu has taken risks with his life throughout his career. In 1989, he left a cushy post as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to China to participate in demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
On the night of June 3, 1989, he was one of four dissidents who negotiated with the People's Liberation Army to allow the last several hundred students to peacefully vacate the square.
After the crackdown, he spent two years in jail.
Other dissidents to win the peace prize include German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in 1983, and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.39.90601 116.3879
Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident imprisoned last year for subversion, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for spearheading a campaign for more freedom in China.