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Fifteen past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have issued a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao, asking that the newest winner, Liu Xiaobo, be released from his 11-year prison sentence, and that his wife, Liu Xia, be freed from de-facto house arrest. Announcement of the appeal, from the Freedom Now organization, here; PDF of the letter here.

One interesting aspect of the effort, which according to Freedom Now was organized by Desmond Tutu, is its "catch more flies with honey" approach. For instance, it says: "The Chinese government's release of Dr. Liu would be an extraordinary recognition of the remarkable transformation China has undergone in recent decades."

Another interesting aspect is the list of signatories, below. Notably absent is a 2007 winner. I would love to have heard whatever discussion occurred between Desmond Tutu and that Laureate (OK, I'm talking about Al Gore) leading to the latter's decision not to become the 16th signer.

Let us hope that the overall "correlation of forces," foreign and domestic, convinces the Chinese leadership that they are better off letting Liu and his wife go rather than keeping them locked up.

Signatory list:
Desmond M. Tutu
Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo
Jimmy Carter
F.W. de Klerk
Shirin Ebadi
John Hume
The Dalai Lama
Mairead Maguire
Wangari Maathai
David Trimble
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Lech Walesa
Elie Wiesel
Betty Williams
Jody Williams

UPDATE: An alert reader writes to ask, "Given that Desmond Tutu organized this, isn't Nelson Mandela an even more glaring absence?"  Fair question. (Health? Not working it out by the deadline?) Still, it is an impressive group, and it would be great if the Chinese government could respond to their high-road pitch to think of clemency toward the Lius as a sign of strength and success rather than weakness.