BEIJING - An influential Chinese paper lashed out on Wednesday at comparisons between Nelson Mandela and China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, saying Liu was a common criminal not worthy of any praise.
Many Chinese internet users have noted the apparent contradiction of Beijing lauding Mandela's legacy at the same time that it continues a harsh crackdown on its own human rights activists.
Microbloggers have particularly alluded to Liu, whose name is banned from appearing online by government censors.
The Global Times, a nationalist-leaning tabloid published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, said it was totally wrong to cast Liu and Mandela in the same light.
Chinese state media almost never mention well-known dissidents by name, making the editorial highly unusual and underscoring government anger at foreign criticism of its rights record, especially from the United States.
"This year, as Chinese people mourned the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, some Western media deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as 'China's Mandela'," the Global Times said in an editorial in its English-language edition.
"Mandela was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for leading African people to anti-apartheid victory through struggles, tolerance and efforts to bridge differences. However, awarding a Chinese prisoner who confronted authorities and was rejected by mainstream Chinese society derides China's judiciary system," it said.
A similar editorial slamming Liu appeared in the more widely read Chinese version of the paper, although that did not mention Mandela.
On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry rebuffed an expression of concern by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the fate of Liu and another prominent activist, Xu Zhiyong, saying only that the Chinese people had the right to talk about the country's human rights.
The Global Times said Western countries were making an issue out of Liu "in defiance of China's judicial sovereignty", adding that he had gone through "a strict legal procedure".
"This system makes sure a society of 1.3 billion people runs smoothly. It will not make an exception for Liu under the pressure or appeal of the West," the paper said.
"The US, in hopes of seeing China's legal system (crushed) by the combined force of globalisation and the Internet, is labelling extreme views of activists of the country as free speech. But only the Chinese law has the final say as to whether a person has violated its law or not."
Liu, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the Chinese army, was jailed in 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges for organising a petition urging the overthrow of one-party rule.