Johann Hari: China must realise that this man is a patriot

When the Nobel Peace Prize is presented next week, the stage will be empty and echoing. The winner – Liu Xiaobo – will be 5,000 miles away, condemned to a filthy cell for the crime of trying to defend his fellow Chinese citizens.

The Chinese government wants us to believe that this fight for greater freedom is a Western plot to weaken China. It is the opposite. It is a Chinese plot to strengthen China. Liu is a patriotic Chinese citizen who believes his people should be able to think and speak freely, and, in time, choose their own government. All he has ever done is peacefully advocate that goal – and it has got him an 11-year prison sentence.

Liu's wife has nominated 140 brave Chinese democrats to attend the ceremony. Almost all of them have had their phone lines cut and are under effective house arrest until the ceremony is over.

The only one who is able to go, because he is already exiled after a battery of threats and "disappearances" of his friends, is Wan Yanhai. He was an ordinary citizen who watched in horror in the 1990s as Aids was spreading through villages in Henan province. He believed he had a moral obligation to try to save these innocent people – and so he was arrested. Tens of thousands of Chinese people needlessly became infected with HIV because their government persecuted AIDS activists. Some, like Hu Jia, are still in prison today.

They are joined by ordinary Chinese people like Zhao Lianhai, whose baby son was poisoned by baby milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine. When he tried to organise a campaign to ensure other babies weren't poisoned, he was jailed by the dictatorship for two and a half years for "subversion"

But there will come a day – maybe soon – when Liu Xiaobo, or one of the Chinese people inspired by him, is free to come to Oslo and receive the applause of his countrymen and of the watching world. That day won't be a victory for "the West", or outside forces. It will be a victory for China.