BEIJING | China‘s government reacted angrily Thursday to the European Parliament’s decision to give its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia, with Beijing calling him a criminal and the award interference.
The harsh reaction to Mr. Hu’s winning the Sakharov Prize contrasted with the friendly atmosphere Beijing was trying to project as it welcomed leaders from the European Union and Asia to a summit to tackle the global economic crisis.
The European Parliament had bucked a Chinese pressure campaign against giving the award to Mr. Hu, an outspoken advocate of human rights, the environment and social fairness. Mr. Hu is in a Beijing jail serving a 3 1/2-year term for sedition. The charge stems from police accusations that he had planned to work with foreigners to disturb the Olympic Games in August.
“We express strong dissatisfaction to the decision by the European Parliament to issue such an award to the jailed criminal in China, in disregard of China’s repeated representations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.
Hours earlier, before the award was announced, Mr. Liu’s deputy, Qin Gang, told reporters: “To issue an award to such a criminal is interference in China’s judicial sovereignty and totally against the initial purpose of this prize.”
The award cheered Mr. Hu’s supporters and the rights community, coming after Beijing’s successful holding of the Olympics drew the spotlight away from China’s civil liberties lapses.
“I feel very happy to hear the news,” Mr. Hu’s wife, Zeng Jinyan, said in a brief telephone interview. Mrs. Zeng, an activist, too, is often under intense surveillance, and the phone disconnected, usually a sign that the authorities were monitoring her calls.
Initially an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, Mr. Hu expanded his efforts after the government gave little ground and he began to see the country’s problems as rooted in authorities’ lack of respect for human rights.
From his apartment where he was often under house arrest, Mr. Hu used the Internet and telephone to chronicle the harassment and arrests of other dissidents. Before he was detained and jailed in December, he also published a series of articles accusing authorities of neglecting and playing down human rights issues ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Mr. Hu was rumored to have been one of the front-runners for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Former Finland President Martti Ahtisaari won the prize.
Named for a Soviet dissident, the Sakharov Prize is considered the European Union’s top rights award and comes with a $64,000 honorarium. Previous winners include former South African President Nelson Mandela, East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao and Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya.
China hosts the two-day 43-nation Asia-Europe Meeting, starting Friday. The issue of economic turmoil will dominate discussions at the conference, said European Union Commission President Jose Barroso. Leaders hope the summit will help build consensus on a response to the crisis before a Nov. 15 meeting in Washington.