World Council of Churches general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, has welcomed the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as a support to those struggling for freedom and dignity worldwide.

At the same time, in Hong Kong, Roman Catholic Bishop John Tong has described the award as an honor “for us as Chinese people” and said he hoped Liu would be released soon.

“I consider this recognition of Liu Xiaobo to be an affirmation and acknowledgement of growing respect for human dignity and freedom around the world,” Tveit said in an Oct. 14 statement issued from the WCC’s headquarters in Geneva.

“It also signifies and underscores the essential parameters that are needed to ensure development, peace and reconciliation among peoples and nations,” said Tveit, a Norwegian theologian, in his statement made available to ENInews.

The WCC groups 349 churches, principally Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant. The Catholic Church is not a member but works with the WCC on some programs.

Liu initiated the “08 Charter,” which urged greater democracy and respect for human rights. More than 10,000 people in China and overseas have signed the charter.

In 2009, one year after the release of the charter, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting the subversion of State power.” The government in Beijing has reacted angrily to the award, describing Liu as a criminal.

In comments to Hong Kong’s Catholic Weekly, published on Oct. 13, Bishop Tong noted that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had earlier stated that the wish of the Chinese people for democracy could not be resisted.

The bishop said Liu and all those imprisoned for pursing democracy and religious freedom should be released so they “can make their contribution to the country, and the reputation of our nation will go up in the eyes of the world.”

Another Beijing-based Chinese Christian dissident Yu Jie, along with other Christians in China and overseas, co-signed a congratulation letter to Liu on Oct. 10. They said the award of the Nobel prize to Liu is a recognition of the victims of the 1989 suppression of democracy protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen square.

In his statement, Tveit referred to another Nobel laureate, Indian-born economist Amartya Sen, who has spoken of “development as freedom” and “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Those societies that commit themselves to human dignity make the possibilities of development and fullness of life available to all.

In order to achieve this potential, the human dignity of each individual should be protected, stated Tveit, a Lutheran theologian. “Christian faith respects the dignity of each person created in the image of God. Such core values are embodied in other religious traditions as well as in secular philosophies,” he asserted.

The awarding of the peace prize to Liu, Tveit said, “is a strong message of support to all those around the world who are struggling for freedom, development and the dignity of all human beings.”