“Liu’s Charter 08, an impassioned and impeccably argued declaration of the rights of the Chinese people and a call for much-needed political reform, is a bold statement which must have made the authorities quake in their boots,” says letter-to-the-editor writer Tony Hung, of Ma On Shan, writing in the South China Morning Post. “Though they may silence him by cutting him off from all contact with the world, they cannot silence his ideas, nor fool all the people all of the time.”

International support has grown for Liu Xiaobo to become the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and he could be the favourite for this year’s award. Liu is with his five cell mates in a prison in China’s north-eastern city of Jinzhou, about 300 miles from Beijing.

Liu, 54, was sentenced to 11 years for subversion on Christmas Day 2009 as the main organiser of Charter 08 that calls for democratic reform. It was signed by 300 writers, lawyers and activists, and modeled on the Charter 77 produced by Czech dissidents.

The authorities have allowed wife Liu Xia, 50, to visit him just once a month since he was transferred from Beijing in May.

Liu Xiaobo’s ideas and actions are along the same lines of former winners as the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Police seized Liu Xiaobo at the couple’s apartment in December 2008, days before the release of Charter 08, while he was working on an article on the charter for a Hong Kong magazine.

Liu Xiaobo had previously spent five years in different forms of detention, and many more under police surveillance and occasional house arrest.

The former Beijing Normal University literature lecturer lost his job and was detained for nearly two years for defending students who joined the 1989 democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Liu, a well known literary critic and philosophical writer, had also urged an investigation into the brutal military crackdown on the protesters.

Charter 08 demands sweeping changes to create a “free, democratic and constitutional state”, and urges the release of all political prisoners. The 303 signatories were joined later by thousands of others, all wanting to transform China and lamenting the lack of freedom, equality and human rights.

“All have endeavoured to use non-violence in effecting gradual change, of persuasion and compromise in upholding human rights and in making the transition toward a peaceful society,” stated another commentator.

Former Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel, who signed Charter 77 as a dissident writer, also co-published a letter of support for Liu in the New York Times in September 2010. The fact that the Dalai Lama also backed Liu will not ease things with the Beijing authorities.

Another Charter 08 signatory, Beijing-based philosophy professor Xu Youyu, said Liu and many other Charter 08 activists had faced “persecution and oppression” merely for asserting the “core values of civilised society” embodied by the Nobel Peace Prize.

“To bestow the prize upon Liu Xiaobo is one of the strongest responses which could be sent,” Xu wrote in his own open letter.

“This would, clearly and unambiguously, reaffirm the values held most dearly by humankind, serve as monumental support for the struggle for the freedom and democracy which China’s 1.3 billion people lack, and would mark a major step in defence of world peace.”