“By awarding the Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia the European Parliament firmly and resolutely acknowledges the daily struggle for freedom of all Chinese human rights defenders,” Mr Pöttering said.
Hu, a 35-year-old Beijing native, is an advocate for HIV/AIDS patients’ rights. Both at home and abroad he has become a symbol of courage in defending people’s rights.
He was officially arrested last December for criticising the government online for violating human rights and tearing down entire Beijing neighbourhoods to give way to Olympic installations.
He was sentenced in April 2008 to three-and-a-half years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power” in his online articles, allegedly evidence of his “relationship with foreign powers, intended to discredit China's image.”
His wife Zeng Jinyan has been under house arrest for months with their infant daughter, closely monitored by police.
His parents were among thousands of intellectuals condemned as rightists in 1957 for their criticism of the government. He remembers that “because my parents were branded rightists, not many children wanted to play with me.”
When it became clear that Hu was up for the Sacharov Prize (named in honour of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov who died in 1989), China’s Ambassador to the European Union Song Zhe expressed “much regret” for the choice in a letter to the speaker of the European parliament.
“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,” Mr Song wrote.
“Not recognising China's progress in human rights and insisting on confrontation will only deepen the misunderstanding between the two sides,” he further cautioned.
Hu Jia was also up for the top international honour, the Nobel Peace Prize, which was eventually awarded to former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. By contrast, for Beijing he is a criminal and any award to him would constitute an offence to the entire Chinese nation.
In the meantime an EU-Asia summit begins tomorrow in Beijing, where EU head French President Nicolas Sarkozy will try to persuade China and other Asia nations to join in an overhaul of the world financial system.