The award ignited a furious response from China, which accused the Norwegian Nobel Committee of violating its own principles by honoring “a criminal.” Chinese state media immediately blacked out the news and Chinese government censors blocked Nobel Prize reports from Internet websites.

Liu, 54, was sentenced last year to 11 years in prison for subversion. Unlike some in China's highly fractured and persecuted dissident community, he has been an ardent advocate for peaceful, gradual political change rather than confrontation with the government.

The Nobel committee praised Liu's pacifist approach, ignoring not-so-subtle threats by Chinese diplomats even before the announcement that such a decision would result in strained ties with Norway.

The committee cited Liu's participation in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 and the Charter 08 document he recently co-authored, which called for greater freedom in China and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance.

Chinese authorities would not allow access to Liu today. In Beijing, his wife expressed her joy at the news.

More info on Liu Xiabo: http://liuxiaobo.eu