Updated at: 12/06/2012 7:35 PM
By LOUISE NORDSTROM
(AP) STOCKHOLM - This year’s Nobel Prize in literature winner, Mo Yan, who has been criticized for his membership in China’s Communist Party and reluctance to speak out against the country’s government, defended censorship Thursday as something as necessary as airport security checks.
He also suggested he won’t join an appeal calling for the release of the jailed 2010 Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, a fellow writer and compatriot.
Mo has been criticized by human rights activists for not being a more outspoken defender of freedom of speech and for supporting the Communist Party-backed writers’ association, of which he is vice president.
His comments Thursday, made during a news conference in Stockholm, appear unlikely to soften his critics’ views toward him.
Awarding him the literature prize has also brought criticism from previous winners. Herta Mueller, the 2009 literature laureate, called the jury’s choice of Mo a "catastrophe" in an interview with the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter last month. She also accused Mo of protecting the Asian country’s censorship laws.
China’s rulers forbid opposition parties and maintain strict control over all media.
Mo said he doesn’t feel that censorship should stand in the way of truth but that any defamation, or rumors, "should be censored."
"But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle," he said in comments translated by an interpreter from Chinese into English.
Mo is spending several days in Stockholm before receiving his prestigious prize in an awards ceremony next Monday.
He won the Nobel for his sprawling tales of life in rural China. In its citation, the jury said Mo "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary."
In addressing the sensitive issue of censorship in China, Mo likened it to the thorough security procedures he was subjected to as he traveled to Stockholm.
"When I was taking my flight, going through the customs ... they also wanted to check me _ even taking off my belt and shoes," he said. "But I think these checks are necessary."
Mo also dodged questions about Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Peace Prize winner. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for co-authoring a bold call for ending China’s single-party rule and enacting democratic reforms.
China’s reception of the two Nobel laureates has been worlds apart.
While it rejected the honor bestowed on Liu, calling it a desecration of the Nobel tradition, it welcomed Mo’s win with open arms, saying it reflected "the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing influence of China."
Although Mo has previously said he hopes Liu will be freed soon, he refused to elaborate more on the case.
"On the same evening of my winning the prize, I already expressed my opinion, and you can get online to make a search," he said, telling the crowd that he hoped they wouldn’t press him on the subject of Liu.
Some, however, have interpreted Mo’s October comments as if he hoped the release of Liu would make the jailed activist see sense and embrace the Communist Party line.
Earlier this week, an appeal signed by 134 Nobel laureates, from Peace Prize winners such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Taiwanese-American chemist Yuan T. Lee, called the detention of Liu and his wife a violation of international law and urged their immediate release.
But Mo suggested he had no plans of adding his name to that petition. "I have always been independent. I like it that way. When someone forces me to do something I don’t do it," he said, adding that has been in his stance in the past decade.
Mo is to receive his Nobel prize along with the winners in medicine, physics, chemistry and economics.
The Nobel Peace Prize is handed out in a separate ceremony in Oslo on the same day.
Associated Press writers Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia and Alexa Olesen in Beijing contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)