This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Mo Yan (莫言), who has been criticized for his membership in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and reluctance to speak out against the country’s government, on Thursday defended censorship as something as necessary as airport security checks.
Mo also suggested he would not join an appeal calling for the release of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), a fellow writer and compatriot.
Mo has been criticized by human rights activists for not being a more outspoken defender of freedom of speech and for supporting the CCP-backed writers’ association, of which he is vice president.
His comments at the news conference in Stockholm appear unlikely to soften his critics’ views toward him.
Awarding him the literature prize has also brought criticism from previous winners. Herta Mueller, the 2009 literature laureate, called the jury’s choice of Mo a “catastrophe” in an interview with the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter last month. She also accused Mo of protecting the Asian country’s censorship laws.
Mo said he did not feel that censorship should stand in the way of truth, but that any defamation, or rumors, “should be censored.”
“But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle,” he said in comments translated by an interpreter from Chinese into English.
Mo is spending several days in Stockholm before receiving his prestigious prize at an awards ceremony on Monday.
In addressing the sensitive issue of censorship in China, Mo likened it to the thorough security procedures he was subjected to as he traveled to Stockholm.
“When I was taking my flight, going through the customs ... they also wanted to check me — even taking off my belt and shoes,” he said. “But I think these checks are necessary.”
Mo also dodged questions about Liu, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for co-authoring a bold call to end China’s single-party rule and enacting democratic reforms.
“On the same evening of my winning the prize, I already expressed my opinion, and you can get online to make a search,” he said, telling reporters that he hoped they would not press him on the subject of Liu.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday reiterated that Liu is a convicted criminal.
Asked whether the Chinese government had instructed Mo not to talk about Liu, ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said: “I want to point out that Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to imprisonment by China’s judicial authorities for violating laws.”
When asked at a daily news briefing, Hong said he did not know about the fate of Liu Xia (劉霞), the wife of Liu Xiaobo, who has been held under house arrest for two years following her husband’s Nobel win.
“I am not aware of what you mentioned, but I want to point out that the legitimate rights of citizens are protected by the rule of law,” he said.
In her first interview in 26 months, Liu Xia told The Associated Press on Thursday that her continuing house arrest in response to her husband’s Nobel prize was absurd. She appeared frail and explained that she has a back injury that frequently keeps her confined to bed.