Hu Jia, one of China's best-known dissidents, has won a European Union human
rights prize despite a warning from Beijing that selecting the political
prisoner would damage relations.
His wife and supporters welcomed the news that MEPs had picked him for the
Sakharov prize. Its previous recipients include Nelson Mandela and the East
Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao.
"Hu Jia is one of the real defenders of human rights in the People's Republic
of China," said Hans-Gert Poettering, the president of the European
"The European parliament is sending out a signal of clear support to all
those who support human rights in China."
Hu was sentenced to three and a half years in jail this spring on subversion
charges amid what human rights campaigners described as a coordinated crackdown
on activists ahead of the Olympics. The authorities said he planned to work with
foreigners to disturb the games.
Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, welcomed the award as a sign that Europe was paying
attention to human rights in China and was concerned about her husband's
Zeng, who has been under house arrest along with the couple's baby, told the
Guardian: "It is also a [sign of] approval of his work. I guess he must be very
glad if he knows about it.
"I don't know whether it will help [with] his sentence; I hope so but I dare
not have too much hope."
She said the family's situation was getting better and she was able to go out
comparatively freely. She visited Hu yesterday and guards let him hold their
child for the first time.
"He was so happy to meet the baby," she said.
Supporters have been concerned about Hu's health because he suffers from
liver disease. Zeng said she was waiting to see if the prison, which provides
his medicine, would approve a doctor's recommendation of new drugs.
The activist's lawyer told the Associated Press news agency the award showed
that "the Chinese government should support and encourage people like Hu Jia,
because you can never silence voices of opposition".
There have been some signs recently of the authorities relaxing strict
controls on dissidents now that the Olympics are over.
But in a letter to Poettering last week, China's ambassador to the EU wrote:
"If the European parliament should award this prize to Hu Jia, that would
inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to
Song Zhe said relations were only just recovering from the backlash in China
triggered by protests ahead of the Olympic games, warning: "Not recognising
China's progress in human rights and insisting on confrontation will only deepen
the misunderstanding between the two sides."
Qin Gang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told a press conference in
Beijing: "To issue an award to such a criminal is interference in China's
judicial sovereignty and totally against the initial purpose of this prize."
Hu began by focusing on the rights of HIV/Aids patients before developing an
interest in issues ranging from Tibet to human rights more generally.
This year's other candidates for the €50,000 (£39,500) prize were from
Belarus and Congo.