10/24/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Sakharov Prize to Hu Jia angers Beijing, makes activists happy

China’s government slams “award to a jailed criminal”. Human rights activists praise the choice as “a huge encouragement”, urging Beijing to recognise basic human rights “to become a great modern power.”
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China reacted angrily to the European parliament’s decision to award the prestigious Sacharov Prize to Hu Jia, a distinguished fighter for human rights and freedom. Chinese human rights responded instead with enthusiasm at the announcement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao slammed the decision, calling it a “gross interference in China's domestic affairs.”

“We express strong dissatisfaction at the decision by the European Parliament to issue such an award to a jailed criminal in China, in disregard of our repeated representations,” Mr Liu added.

Earlier this week, Beijing had warned the European Union that such a choice would “bring serious damage to China-EU relations.”

“I don't think this award represents the opinion of most people in Europe,” Mr Liu added.

Hu Jintai has been fighting for years for the rights of HIV-AIDS patients and has become a symbol of the courageous struggle for human rights in China.

He was arrested last December for criticising the government’s policy of tearing down entire Beijing neighbourhoods to give way to Olympic installations.

In April he was sentenced to three and half years in jail on “subversion” charges for publishing articles online showing “his relationship with foreign powers, intended to discredit China's image.”

For many Chinese activists government claims do not reflect public opinion.

“This [the Sacharov Prize] is a huge encouragement for both Hu Jia and all freedom fighters and human rights defenders on the mainland,” said Mr Bao Tong, a prominent political dissident.

“It's also a most important declaration of support for all Chinese citizens who yearn to have basic human rights,” Mr Bao added. “What Hu Jia has been fighting for represents mainstream world values. If China wants to become a real modern power, it must first acknowledge universal human rights.”

Wan Yanhai, another prominent Aids activist, said the award could lead to Hu's early release from jail. But for Li Jingsong, Hu’s attorney, the reward might be counterproductive.

“It's unlikely the authorities will change their minds, because they wouldn't want to be seen as giving in to international pressure,” he said.

Still half of the security guards who follow him around day and night “said to me that Hu is a nice person and a true Christian who is able to love even those who have hurt him," Mr Li noted.

The prize includes 50,000 euros (US$ 64,000). Gao Yaojie, a gynaecologist whose campaign for AIDS patients has been honoured by the United Nations and many Western human rights organisations, said he hoped “the authorities will at least not block the money”, which ought to reach his wife, Zeng Jinyan , who has been under house arrest for the past 11 months, and their one year-old daughter. “Their life has been very hard.”

Speaking by phone Zeng (pictured with Hu) said she was happy about the award. “I have always felt that support for Hu Jia will be helpful to him in the long term,” she said.

Hu’s mother, also reached by phone, did not discuss the prize, but said her son was moved to a prison in Beijing from Tianjin two weeks ago. She was permitted to visit him, along with her daughter-in-law and grand-daughter, on 22 October.

“Hu Jia doesn’t look tired as he doesn’t have to work in the new prison,” she noted. “I can tell that” he “is now in good spirits. Additionally, the food is much better than before” and he “was also allowed to hold his daughter during the visit.”

“I don’t know the reason why they transferred” him “from Tianjin to Beijing. I hope the authorities will allow him to take medications,” she added.

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