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EU honors Chinese dissident Hu Jia in absentia

December 19, 2008

STRASBOURG, France December 18, 2008 (AP) — The European Parliament gave a jailed Chinese dissident a one-minute standing ovation on Wednesday as it honored him in absentia with its top human rights award.
Hu Jia, who chronicled the harassment of other activists in China before getting sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail last April, was named winner of the 2008 Sakharov Prize.
Because Hu is in jail, the prize was awarded at a ceremony at which his name was placed in front of an empty seat. The 784-member assembly listened to a video message from Hu's wife, who thanked the European Parliament for its recognition of her 35-year-old husband.
The ceremony was attended by Elena Bonner, the widow of Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov — for whom the award is named — and past award laureates.
The award signaled the EU assembly's dismay with what it sees as the authoritarian and repressive nature of the Chinese government.
"We, in the European Parliament, wish to keep good relations with China," said Hans-Gert Poettering, a German Christian Democrat who is the assembly's president. "We speak out as a friend of the Chinese people."
Recent weeks have seen bitter exchanges between Beijing and French President Nicolas Sarkozy over Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist. Other EU leaders also met with him when he toured Europe last week.
Even before the announcement last October that Hu would be awarded the Sakharov prize, China's ambassador to the EU wrote a letter saying the assembly risked seriously damaging China's relations with the 27-nation bloc by picking Hu.
Authorities in Beijing claim Hu planned to work with foreigners to disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Just before his arrest, he had spoken to EU lawmakers by phone to discuss human rights in China before the games.
Hu started out fighting for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients in China, but his scope expanded after he began to feel that many of China's problems were rooted in authorities' lack of respect for human rights.
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