* Call for release of jailed Nobel prize winner Liu
* China stepping up crackdown on free speech
GENEVA, Dec 13 (Reuters) - UN human rights investigators said on Monday that activists in China were under growing pressure from the state, linking the crackdown to the Nobel peace prize award to dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The three investigators called for the release of Liu, who is serving an 11-year sentence on charges of subversion, and for a halt to actions against his wife and other supporters.
The investigators, all from developing countries, said they had reports of over 20 arrests or detentions of human rights defenders and other actions including house arrests, travel restrictions, intimidation and blocking of communications.
“This recent and alarming trend to increasingly restrict the space to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and the ability of Chinese human rights defenders to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities calls into question China’s commitments to promote and protect universal human rights,” they said.
The three, who report to the U.N.’s 47-nation Human Rights Council where a developing country majority generally blocks any criticism of China, are Margaret Sekaggya of Uganda, Frank La Rue of Guatemala and El Hadji Malick Sow of Senegal.
Sekaggya is special rapporteur on human rights defenders and La Rue on freedom of expression, while Sow chairs a working group on arbitrary detention.
The Nobel prize was formally awarded in Oslo last Friday to Liu, a former literature professor and author of a declaration on how to achieve democracy in China. He was represented by an empty chair with his portrait on it.
Last week a number of groups often critical of the United Nations attacked the world body’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in statements run widely on the Internet and in some U.S. and European newspapers for allegedly refusing to attend the Oslo ceremony.
One said she was “kow-towing” to China, which diplomats say brought strong pressure to bear on many developing countries, especially those with which it has strong commercial ties, to stay away from the Nobel event.
But at a news conference on Thursday Pillay -- a former international war crimes tribunal judge from South Africa -- said she had not been invited, while defending Liu as a peaceful advocate of human rights who should be freed. [ID:nLDE6B81VW] (Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Maria Golovnina)