Amnesty International has given its top human rights award this year to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), a fierce critic of Beijing who has been banned from leaving China after an 81-day detention in 2011, and US folksinger Joan Baez.
The Ambassador of Conscience Award recognizes “those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work,” Amnesty said in a statement on Tuesday.
Previous winners include Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, former South African president Nelson Mandela and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Through his work Ai Weiwei reminds us that the right of every individual to express their self must be protected, not just for the sake of society, but also for art and humanity,” Amnesty secretary-general Salil Shetty said in the statement.
Shetty praised Baez for her “unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all.”
The joint award will be presented at a ceremony in Berlin on May 21, the statement said.
However, it is almost certain that Ai, 57, will not be able to collect it as he remains under close surveillance and is unable to leave China.
Ai said it was difficult to predict the impact his award will have on China, which is “pretty disdainful of these kinds of awards.”
In an interview, he urged other countries to continue criticizing China’s social and political situation.
“My opinion is that in paying attention and being critical on human rights issues, [we are paying] attention to a basic condition of human existence, and this absolutely is not a gift the West can choose to give, but it is their responsibility,” he said.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said China has expressed its stance on Ai’s case many times.
The ministry has previously said he was being investigated by law enforcement authorities.
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