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BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of 134 Nobel laureates including the Dalai Lama and author Toni Morrison have written to Chinese Communist Party chief and president-in-waiting Xi Jinping urging that he release detained Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife.
Liu, a veteran dissident involved in 1989 pro-democracy protests crushed by the Chinese army, won the prize in 2010. He was jailed the year earlier and is serving an 11-year sentence. His wife Liu Xia is under house arrest.
"As you have taken the first step towards assuming the presidency of the People's Republic of China, we write to welcome the prospect of fresh leadership and new ideas," the laureates wrote, in a letter released on Tuesday.
"To that end, we respectfully urge you to release Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and his wife, Liu Xia."
The letter was also signed by the likes of South African peace campaigner Desmond Tutu and John Gurdon, joint winner of this year's medicine prize.
The laureates said restricting freedom of thought would have an impact upon creativity in all fields.
"Across all disciplines, the distinguishing feature which led to our recognition as Nobel Laureates is that we have embraced the power of our intellectual freedom and creative inspiration to do our part to advance the human condition."
"No government can restrict freedom of thought and association without having a negative effect on such important human innovation," they wrote.
The laureates noted that President Hu Jintao, during a visit to the United States last year, recognised that much needed to be done in China on human rights.
"While we welcome such honest assessments, we hope that China's new political leadership will move past merely recognising the problem and seize this important opportunity to take concrete steps towards embracing the fundamental rights of all Chinese citizens."
China says that Liu is a criminal and should be treated as such, decrying criticism of the case as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
Xi takes over the presidency from Hu at an annual meeting of parliament in March.
The Communist Party, which values stability above all else, brooks no dissent to its rule and has shown no sign of relaxing its grip on power.
Editing by Robert Birsel