Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 1 News List

EU honors PRC dissident with top rights award

SAKHAROV PRIZE In spite of heavy lobbying by Beijing, the EU Parliament selected Hu Jia for his active role in defending human rights in China

AP AND AFP , STRASBOURG, FRANCE

Chinese dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) won the EU’s top human rights prize yesterday despite a warning from Beijing that his selection would seriously harm relations.

“Hu Jia is one of the real defenders of human rights in the People’s Republic of China,” European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said. “The European Parliament is sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China.”

Hu was selected by members of the European Parliament from a shortlist of three that also included candidates from Belarus and Congo for the Sakharov Prize. Lawmakers said Chinese pressure had been counterproductive.

“Beijing was lobbying heavily for Hu Jia to be passed over but the award of this richly deserved accolade to him shows that MEPs [members of the European Parliament] will not be silenced like so many Chinese dissidents have been, said Charles Tannock, foreign affairs spokesman for the British Conservatives in the EU assembly.

Chinese Ambassador to the EU Song Zhe (宋哲) had warned the bloc’s elected assembly not to pick Hu.

“If the European Parliament should award this prize to Hu Jia, that would inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to China-EU relations,” Song wrote in a letter to the assembly’s president.

The announcement of the prize was made as EU leaders gathered in Beijing for a summit with Asian counterparts today and tomorrow seeking to build a global response to the financial crisis.

Hu is a dissident who chronicled the arrests and harassment of other activists before he was sentenced in April to three-and-a-half years in jail in China. Beijing authorities said he planned to work with foreigners to disturb the Beijing Olympics.

He started out fighting for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, but his scope expanded after the government gave little ground and he began to see China’s problems as rooted in authorities’ lack of respect for human rights.

The Sakharov Prize, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is in its 20th year. It comes with a cash award of 50,000 euros (US$64,150).

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