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Richard Gere pleads for Nobel winner release

By Alexandra DiPalma, CNN
Richard Gere joined a group of NGOs outside the United Nations Friday rallying for release of Liu Xiaobo.
Richard Gere joined a group of NGOs outside the United Nations Friday rallying for release of Liu Xiaobo.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protest to honor Liu Xiaobo draws small crowd
  • Actor reads from a statement Liu issued before he was sentenced
  • Liu is the first Nobel Peace Prize winner in 75 years to be unable to accept the prize

United Nations (CNN) -- The Chinese government could embrace Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo with pride and respect "with a little twist of the mind," actor and activist Richard Gere told a small group of activists at a New York rally in honor of Liu, who has been imprisoned by Beijing.

The rally took place in Ralph Bunche Park, named for another Nobel Peace Prize winner who was involved in the formation of the United Nations.

Standing beneath a portrait of Liu behind symbolic Styrofoam bars, Gere read an excerpt from the jailed dissident's final statement, "I Have No Enemies," issued two days before he was sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence on December 25, 2009.

"I hope to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change," Gere read. "And to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love."

Gere was invited to remove the first prison bar from the hanging banner of Liu. He joined a group of nongovernmental organization representatives in removing the remaining bars from the banner, created by artists Zhang Hongtu and Tenzing Rigdol.

Descending the park steps, Gere said that Liu, alone in jail, is "more courageous than organizations like the U.N. or the president of the United States."

In the bitter cold outside U.N. headquarters, Gere called for a moment of silence to reflect on Liu's achievements and on his imprisonment.

"It's funny," Gere said. "It just got a little warmer thinking about those things: Liu Xiaobo, freedom and compassion."

During the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, Norway, earlier in the day, Liu's prize was placed on an empty chair, symbolizing the winner's absence. Gere called the empty chair "an extremely eloquent symbol."

Liu is the first winner in 75 years who was unable to accept the Nobel Peace Prize medal, diploma and accompanying $1.5 million check. The last time a winner did not travel to Oslo was in 1935, when Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and pacifist, was barred from accepting the award and attending the ceremony.

Ossietzky was imprisoned in a concentration camp and suffering from tuberculosis. The German Propaganda Ministry decreed publicly that he could travel to Norway for the prize, but he was never issued a passport. The government barred the press from mentioning Ossietzky's prize and decreed that no German could accept any Nobel prize.