(New York) - The awarding of the European Parliament's 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the jailed Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia underscores the urgent need for rights reforms in China, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch reiterated its long-standing call for the release of Hu, who was sentenced last April to three and half years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power," a charge regularly leveled against critics and dissidents in China.
The European Parliament has described Hu Jia as a "leading symbol of China's human rights problems... He represents all the other Chinese and Tibetan citizens who are repressed: lawyers, journalists, petitioners, human rights activists, writers and cyber-dissidents." The award ceremony is to take place in Strasbourg on December 17.
"Awarding the Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights sends a powerful message to the Chinese government," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Beijing pledged to improve human rights and to show the world a ‘harmonious society' during the Olympics, but instead silenced and locked up peaceful rights defenders."
Hu has worked as the executive director of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education, a nonprofit organization aimed at advocating for the rights of Chinese citizens suffering from HIV/AIDS. He has also taken up civil rights and environmental concerns.
Human Rights Watch has long argued that Hu's arrest in December 2007 was politically motivated, and that his trial did not meet minimum standards of fairness and due process (https://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/03/17/china18300.htm). On the occasion of the six-month anniversary of Hu's flawed conviction, Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to exonerate Hu or grant him medical parole. He suffers from liver cirrhosis linked to chronic hepatitis B infection (https://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/01/china19897.htm).
Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, herself a noted human rights activist, remains under police surveillance, along with the couple's infant daughter, Qianci. In an effort to keep her from speaking to the press during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Zeng Jinyan was detained in a hotel in Dalian in Liaoning Province from August 8 to 23. She has documented Hu's detention conditions and declining health since his arrest on her blog.
In an open letter titled "The Real China and the Olympics" (https://www.hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/teng_biao080220.pdf) published in September 2007, Hu and fellow activist Teng Biao drew attention to chronic rights abuses in China, including the absence of independent courts and trade unions, and the widespread use of torture. Human Rights Watch has documented the deterioration of human rights in China, including violations of the Chinese government's pledges of greater media freedom, in the period following the publication of this letter.
"The European Parliament made an important decision this year to highlight Beijing's policy of jailing, surveilling, and otherwise silencing human rights advocates, lawyers and journalists," said Richardson.
Human Rights Watch also reiterated its call for the Chinese government to release Hu and other jailed activists including Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng and Huang Qi (http://china.hrw.org/hu_jia_and_chinas_rights_defenders).
"The Chinese government should see Hu Jia as the European Parliament clearly does: not as an enemy or embarrassment, but rather as someone whose courageous advocacy embodies the best of China," said Richardson.