EU defies Beijing with prize to Chinese activist
Strasbourg, France/Beijing -- The European Parliament (EP) defied Chinese warnings Thursday and awarded its prestigious Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia, an imprisoned Chinese civil rights activist and dissident.
The decision was a rebuke to Beijing, which had said that honoring Hu could "seriously damage" China’s relations with the European Union.
Hu was picked from a shortlist of candidates that also included Aleksandr Kozulin, a former presidential candidate in Belarus, and Apollinaire Malu Malu, who chairs the Independent Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"By awarding the Sakharov Prize to Hu, the European Parliament firmly and resolutely acknowledges the daily struggle for freedom of all Chinese human rights defenders," EP President Hans-Gert Pottering said as he announced the winner.
In awarding the prize, European lawmakers singled out Hu’s efforts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and his call for an official enquiry into the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The decision by the parliament was "welcomed" by the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, which said it attached "great importance to freedom of thought."
A commission spokeswoman pointed out that the EU had in March complained to the Chinese authorities over Hu’s detention on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" for writing articles and giving interviews in which he criticized his government.
Reporters Without Borders, a pressure group, said Europe was sending "a very strong message of solidarity and hope to Chinese prisoners of conscience, of whom Hu is one of the best known."
"Our thoughts go out above all to Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their daughter, who is about to celebrate her first birthday," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
The announcement came as European Union officials were meeting their Asian counterparts in Beijing.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not expect the issue to cast a cloud over the summit.
"This case belongs to the category where China and Europe are of different opinions," Merkel said.
Speaking in Beijing shortly before the EU’s announcement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had "made representations" to the European Union over the award.
"We oppose other countries’ interference in China’s internal affairs in the name of human rights," Qin told reporters.
"Hu Jia is a criminal convicted on charges of subversion," he said. "To give the award to such a person is interference in China’s judicial sovereignty, which is also against the original purpose of the award."
Named in honor of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, the yearly prize has been awarded over the past 20 years to individuals or organizations who have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.
Past winners include Nelson Mandela and the UN.