European Parliament rewards Chinese dissident Hu Jia

December 18th, 2008 - 4:54 am ICT by IANS  

Strasbourg (France), Dec 18 (DPA) The European Parliament Wednesday awarded its Sakharov Prize to jailed Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia, rebuffing warnings from Beijing that doing so might damage the European Union’s (EU) relations with China.The prize, which each year honours worthy human rights activists around the world, was given to Hu in absentia.

“I would like to express my deep concern that our laureate Hu Jia could not be here today with us and receive the award in person as he remains imprisoned for defending human rights in China - freedom of speech, freedom of thought and the basic right of access to the health service,” said Laima Andrikiene, the conservatives’ spokesman on human rights issues.

The award ceremony in Strasbourg came against the backdrop of souring EU-China relations.

Beijing cancelled an EU-China summit, due to have taken place earlier this month, over a meeting between the rotating chairman of the EU, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader, in Poland.

The wife of the jailed Chinese dissident has thanked the European Parliament and others in the West for their support.

“It is not only for us, it is also for all Chinese human rights defenders,” Zeng Jinyan told DPA.

“It is important, it makes us feel warm and encouraged,” she said in an interview via the internet, which is normally the only way she can communicate with foreign journalists without police interference.

Attending the ceremony in Strasbourg, which also marked the 20th anniversary of the Sakharov Prize, were a number of former winners. Among them Wei Jingsheng of the Chinese Democratic Movement and the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Opposition, Aliaksandr Milinkevich.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and two Cuban dissidents are among other former winners to have been prevented by their national authorities from receiving the prize in person.

Hu was rewarded by the European Parliament over his efforts to spread knowledge about the AIDS virus and his campaigns to protect the environment.

The Chinese authorities have sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power”, European lawmakers said.

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