* Mo Yan steers clear of call for Liu freedom
* Award of prize puts Chinese writer in rights spotlight
STOCKHOLM, Dec 6 (Reuters) - A flustered Mo Yan, the Chinese
winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, steered clear of
human rights issues and refused on Thursday to back a petition
by fellow laureates for jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize
winner Liu Xiaobo.
A group of 134 Nobel laureates including the Dalai Lama,
wrote to Chinese Communist Party chief and president-in-waiting
Xi Jinping urging him to release Liu, who won the prize two
years ago. They also want Xi to free Liu's wife.
The case has drawn attention to China's human rights record,
although China says Liu is a criminal and decries such criticism
as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
Mo, the first Chinese national to win the $1.2 million
literature prize who was in Stockholm to receive the award,
refused to express support for Liu, and sometimes appeared
agitated after repeated questions over Liu at a news conference.
The writer also defended censorship as sometimes necessary,
comparing it to security checks at airports.
"I have already issued my opinion about this matter (over
Liu)," he told journalists in Stockholm through a translator,
days ahead of the formal award ceremony.
In October, after the award announcement, Mo said he hoped
that Liu would achieve his freedom as soon as possible.
"I have said this prize is about literature. Not for
politics," said the 57-year-old whose adopted pen name Mo Yan
means "don't speak".
Despite world attention on days of Nobel prize events in
Stockholm, Mo shunned any chance of making a clear call for
"I am sure you know what I said that day (in October). Why
do you want to repeat that? Time is precious," he said when
pressed over Liu.
"I have never praised a system of censorship, but also
censorship exists in every country," he added. "There is only a
difference of a degree of censorship."
Pressed on whether he would support the call from the
laureates, Mo said: "I have always been independent. I like it
that way ... when I am forced to express my opinion, I will not
Mo was being accompanied on his Stockholm trip by a Chinese
official, raising questions over whether the author was under
pressure not to say anything about politics.
A number of dissidents and other writers have said Mo was
unworthy of winning as he had shied away from commenting on
Liu's plight. They have also denounced him for commemorating a
speech by former paramount leader Mao Zedong.
Hu Jia, one of China's most prominent dissidents, told
Reuters he was "very disappointed" by Mo's statements on
"Could he not just say one sentence in his (Liu's) support?"
In November, Herta Muller, who won the Nobel literature
prize in 2009, called the Nobel award for Liu a "catastrophe".
Liu, a veteran dissident involved in 1989 pro-democracy
protests crushed by the Chinese army, won the prize in 2010. He
had been jailed the year before and is serving an 11-year
sentence. His wife Liu Xia is under house arrest.
Mo is best known in the West for "Red Sorghum", which
portrays the hardships endured by farmers in the early years of
communist rule and was made into a film directed by Zhang Yimou.
His books also include "Big Breasts and Wide Hips" and "The
Republic of Wine".