(CNN) -- The award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo follows an occasional precedent of recognizing human rights campaigners who are either imprisoned or subjected to state restrictions or harassment.
In announcing the prestigious award, Norwegian Nobel Committee President Thorbjoern Jagland cited Liu for his "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." Liu is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence in China for inciting subversion of state power.
Reacting to the award, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mao Zhaoxu said Liu was a "convicted criminal" whose actions had been "in complete contradiction to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize."
But Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute, said the Nobel Committee had a "very strong tradition of awarding the prize to human rights activists of many different kinds.
"This is a tradition we are very proud of, and this is a tradition for which the Norwegian Nobel Committee has received much applause," Lundestad said.
"We felt that if we were serious about this tradition, we did have to come to terms with the question of China in this perspective, and this is what we then did this year."
Unless Liu is released to collect his prize in Oslo in December, he will join a short list of laureates including Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa who have been unable to receive their medal in person.
Suu Kyi was awarded the prize in 1991 for her "non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights" one year after her pro-democracy party won a landslide win in national elections. But the result was suppressed by the country's military rulers. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest and has remained in detention for most of the time since then.
Her acceptance speech was delivered by her son, Alexander Aris, who said: "It is my deepest hope that... the ruling junta may yet heed such appeals to basic humanity as that which the Nobel Committee has expressed in its award of this year's prize."
Myanmar's leaders said earlier this month that Suu Kyi would be released in November days after the country's first elections in two decades. But Suu Kyi's lawyers have expressed skepticism about the junta's pledge.
Sakharov, a Soviet nuclear physicist turned human rights campaigner, won the award in 1975 but wasn't allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect his prize. Instead, his acceptance speech was read by his wife, Elena Bonner Sakharova.
"I beg you to remember that the honor which was thus granted to me is shared by all prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern European countries as well as by all those who fight for their liberation," Sakharova said, on behalf of her husband.
In 1979 Sakharov was exiled to the closed city of Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod, and lived under constant state surveillance until his return to Moscow in 1986 as Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika saw many dissidents freed.
Polish trade union leader Walesa, recognized for his work as leader of the anti-communist Solidarity movement, was also unable to collect his peace prize in 1983, fearing he would not be allowed to freely return to Poland if he did so, according to the Lech Walesa Institute website. Instead, he sent his wife, Danuta, and son, Bogdan, to Oslo on his behalf.
Walesa had been frequently detained and kept under state surveillance since the mid-1970s and when martial law was imposed in Poland in 1981, Walesa has been arrested and interned for almost a year in a remote country house.
"With deep sorrow I think of those who paid with their lives for the loyalty to Solidarity; of those who are behind prison bars and who are victims of repressions," Walesa said in an acceptance speech read out by his wife.
In 2009, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store raised concerns about the treatment of Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, claiming that the 2003 winner's medal had been confiscated by the Tehran regime. Norway also claimed Ebadi's husband had been arrested and severely beaten.
But Iran denied confiscating the medal, and said Ebadi was the subject of a tax evasion probe.
Ebadi received the prize for her focus on human rights, especially on the struggle to improve the status of women and children. Following the arrest of her sister, she told CNN earlier this year that she said she had been warned to stop her human rights activities.
"In the past six months they have put significant pressure on me as well as on members of my family; my husband, my brother and my sister, who were summoned on several occasions to the intelligence ministry and told that if I did not cease my human rights activities they would be arrested."
Argentinean human rights campaigner Adolfo Esquivel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 after spending more than a year in prison without trial between 1977 and 1978. He was cited for raising awareness about the "dirty war" carried out by Argentina's military rulers which saw thousands of political opponents "vanish without trace," according to the Nobel Prize website.
In 1960, the Nobel Committee awarded the peace prize to the then-president of the African National Congress, Albert Lutuli, for his work opposing South Africa's apartheid regime.
Lutuli spent almost a year in detention between 1956 and 1957 on treason charges which were later dropped. A series of travel bans confined Lutuli to a 15-mile radius around his home and in 1960 he was arrested and given a suspended jail sentence for publicly burning his identity papers in a gesture of solidarity with demonstrators killed in the Sharpeville massacre.
Lutuli's ANC comrade, Nelson Mandela, imprisoned from 1964 until 1990, had to wait until after his release to win the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the honor with apartheid South Africa's last president F.W. de Klerk, for the pair's work in ending racial segregation.
Anti-Nazi campaigner and journalist Carl von Ossietzky was the first Nobel Peace laureate to be awarded the prize while in prison in Germany in the mid-1930s. Von Ossietzky had already served a seven-month jail term between 1931 and 1932 for betraying military secrets after publishing an article revealing details of Germany's secret rearmament.
In February 1933, with Hitler consolidating his grip on power, von Ossietzky was arrested by secret police and imprisoned, first in Berlin and then in concentration camps at Sonnenburg and Esterwegen-Papenburg where fellow prisoners said he was forced to perform heavy labor despite suffering a heart attack.
Having been cited for the peace prize for 1935, Berlin refused to release him to collect the award in 1936 and demanded that he decline the honor, which Von Ossietzky refused to do. Suffering from tuberculosis he remained in captivity and then in hospital under surveillance until his death in 1938.
According to the Nobel Prize website, Von Ossietzky's last public appearance was at a court hearing at which his lawyer was sentenced to two years hard labor for embezzling most of his prize money.