Amnesty gives top rights award to Ai Weiwei, Joan Baez

21st May 2015, Comments 0 comments

Human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday honoured Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and US folk singer Joan Baez as joint winners of its Ambassador of Conscience Award.

The London-based group said its highest prize, to be presented at a Berlin ceremony from 1800 GMT, recognises "those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work".

Amnesty's secretary general Salil Shetty called Ai and Baez "an inspiration to thousands more human rights activists, from across Asia to America and beyond".

The group wanted to "pay tribute to Joan Baez who is with us ... and to Ai Weiwei who's not, and who can't be with us," Bill Shipsey, founder and chair of the Art for Amnesty programme, told a Berlin press conference.

Ai, 57, China's best-known contemporary artist, is barred from travelling abroad after clashing repeatedly with Chinese authorities over his criticism of official corruption and political repression.

The designer of the Beijing Olympics Bird's Nest Stadium fell out with China's leaders after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when he blamed official corruption for structural faults in schools where thousands of children died.

The painter, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker and avid social media publicist, was severely beaten by security officials in 2010 and detained again, for 81 days, in 2011.

While his art installations abroad draw crowds and praise around the world, he remains under tight surveillance at home.

"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," Shetty said in a statement.

Singer-songwriter Baez, 74, was honoured for "dedicating most of her life to non-violence and civil and human rights activism," said Amnesty.

The group recalled that she joined civil rights marches with Martin Luther King Junior, protested against the Vietnam War and the death penalty and for the rights of California's migrant farm workers and of gays and lesbians.

"Non-violence is the basis of everything I've done all of my life," Baez told the press conference.

Shetty said that "with her mesmerising voice and unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all, Joan Baez has been a formidable force for good over more than five decades".

© 2015 AFP

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