More than 30 Chinese intellectuals have been detained, warned or placed under house arrest in a crackdown to stifle celebration of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the imprisoned democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo.
Concerns are also growing for the laureate's wife, Liu Xia, who has not been seen or heard from since she went to visit her husband in Jinzhou prison today.
"The reaction of the authorities is predictable and stupid. They have tried to block the flow of information on the internet, detain people and cut telephone communications," said Zhang Yu, the Stockholm-based head of the Writers in Prison Committee of the freedom of expression group, Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC). "I'm sure they have planned for this."
The Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee announced on Friday that this year's winner will be Liu, a former literature professor who co-drafted the Charter 08 campaign for increased political liberties in China.
US president Barack Obama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Czech president Vaclav Havel were among a host of world leaders who commended the decision, but the Chinese government has responded with fury.
The foreign ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for a dressing down and declared the decision a "blasphemy" and insult to the Chinese people.
Censors cut foreign broadcasts of the announcement and police have been mobilised to choke any sign of domestic support for Liu.
About 20 of those affected were at a celebration party in Beijing on Friday night that was broken up by police. Three participants are now under eight days administrative detention for "disturbing social order". The others are under house arrest or heightened surveillance.
"There are two police outside my apartment building. I can't go out," said Liu Jingsheng, a recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. "This kind of thing happens from time to time in Beijing during the People's Congress and other politically sensitive periods, but it is tougher now."
Lawyer Teng Biao said police prevented him from meeting journalists and warned him not to talk about the award or attend a celebration banquet.
The ICPC – of which Liu was a member – appears to have been particularly targeted. The group's deputy secretary general Jiang Bo is among at least 10 members who have been warned. Two are under house arrest and one – Zhao Changqing – has been detained for eight days.
Concern is now focused on Liu Xia, whose phone has been cut since she left home this morning to visit her husband and inform him of the news.
"She has basically gone missing," said Sarah Hoffman of ICPC. "Our colleagues at the ICPC cannot get in touch with her. Neither, apparently can her mother. We're crossing our fingers that she'll resurface soon."
Supporters hope that Liu Xia will collect the prize on behalf of her husband at the award ceremony in Europe later this year. If she was then denied re-entry into China, they say this might set the stage for the authorities to release Liu Xiaobo before the end of his jail term so he could join her overseas.
This scenario seems optimistic given the Chinese government's recent unwillingness to release political prisoners. But the award has inspired hope.
Jiang Danwen, the deputy secretary general of ICPC, said police have warned him not to comment on the prize and are now parked outside his Shanghai home, but the inconvenience was worthwhile.
"Actually I feel very happy. The reaction shows the award has really shocked the government." - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010