Today's decision by the European Parliament to award the 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Hu Jia, a Chinese human rights activist held since December 2007 for posting articles online and giving interviews to foreign journalists, is welcomed with enthusiasm by Reporters Without Borders.
“Europe is sending a very strong message of solidarity and hope to Chinese prisoners of conscience, of whom Hu Jia is one of the best known,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Chinese government should heed Europe's appeal for the release of Hu and other political prisoners. The Chinese authorities are making a big mistake by treating him as a criminal and by threatening both the Nobel Peace Prize jury and the European Parliament's members.
“The time has come to release Hu and those he defended peacefully, including Chen Guangcheng, Shi Tao and Xu Zerong. This prize is also being awarded for Hu's tireless work on behalf of the environment, AIDS suffers and prisoners of conscience. China needs men and women like Hu.
“Our thoughts go out above all to Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their daughter, who is about to celebrate her first birthday. Watched and harassed by police officers stationed permanently outside her Beijing apartment building, Zeng Jinyan will receive the news of this award with great emotion and dignity, as she has always supported her husband's fight for human rights.
“We also hail the active support that Hu has received from the European Parliament's members, especially those in the Greens and Alliance for Liberals and Democrats groups that nominated him, and the courage of the parliament's president, Hans Gert Pöttering.”
It was Pöttering who announced to a full session of the parliament at noon today that Hu Jia was this year's winner of the Sakharov Prize, which will be awarded at a ceremony in Strasbourg in December.
The Chinese ambassador to Brussels warned that giving the Sakharov Prize to Hu would have negative consequences for the European Union's relations with China. “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 China-EU relations,” the ambassador wrote in a letter to Pöttering.
Aged 35, Hu was recently transferred to Beijing municipal detention centre after spending five months in Hubai prison in Tianjin, 200 km east of Beijing. He has not been getting the medicine he needs for a liver ailment and has been punished several times for defending the rights of fellow inmates.
Arrested on 27 December 2007 on a charge of “inciting subversion of state authority,” Hu was tried on 18 March before a Beijing intermediate court for posting information about matters of state on websites based abroad. The court sentenced him on 3 April 2008 to three and a half years in prison.
A humanitarian activist since the start of the 1990s, Hu was involved not only in HIV prevention and helping HIV/AIDS sufferers, but also in protecting the environment and defending prisoners of conscience. He used the Internet, especially his blog and videos, to expose the regime's repression of those who defend human rights.
He was arrested and held incommunicado for 40 days in the spring of 2006 and, on his release, he was placed under house arrest. Police stationed around the couple's apartment building prevented him from going out while his wife, Zeng, was followed whenever she left the apartment.
Hu and Zeng were awarded the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France special “China” prize in December 2007. Time magazine named Zeng as one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2007.