E.U. Honors Jailed Chinese Dissident

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 24, 2008

SHANGHAI, Oct. 23 -- The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia despite warnings from China that its relations with the 27-nation bloc would be seriously damaged if it did so.

In selecting Hu to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European lawmakers said they are "sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China." Hu has advocated for the rights of Chinese citizens with HIV/AIDS and chronicled the arrest, detention and abuse of other activists.

The award honors Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who was a leader in the country's pro-democracy opposition party.

"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 in announcing the award.

When Hu was revealed earlier this month to be among the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize, China's ambassador to the European Union, Song Zhe, sent a letter to Poettering asking him to use his influence to make sure Hu did not win. She said honoring Hu "would inevitably hurt the Chinese people and once again bring serious damage to China-EU relations."

"Not recognizing China's progress in human rights and insisting on confrontation will only deepen the misunderstanding between the two sides," Song wrote.

Hu, 35, has been speaking out for the rights of Chinese since his college days, when he was active in several environmental organizations. In 2000, he began pushing for better treatment of people suffering from AIDS and orphans who lost parents to the disease. His efforts were focused on Henan province, where thousands were infected in the 1990s through unsafe blood transfusions. Hu has said that through his work on behalf of AIDS patients, he began to see larger abuses by the Chinese government and started to chronicle the harassment and detention of activists.

In the lead-up to the Olympics, Hu used the Internet to report on abuses related to preparations for the games. Chinese authorities arrested Hu at his home in Beijing in December on charges of subverting state authority through the articles he published online and through interviews with the foreign press.

In April, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and has been in government custody ever since. Human rights groups have called for his release, saying that his arrest was politically motivated and that his trial did not follow due process.

Yu Jie, a writer whose banned books have challenged the Communist Party's view on such controversial topics as the 1989 confrontations in Tiananmen Square, said that the E.U. took a bold stand Thursday that places human rights over politics in China.

"In the short-term, the bilateral relationship between the two will be intense because the Chinese government needs to protect its face," Yu said.

Calls to the mobile phone of Zeng Jinyan, Hu's wife, went unanswered Thursday, and the phone appeared to have been turned off.

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