The European Parliament has honoured a jailed Chinese dissident in absentia with its top human rights award. The assembly gave a one-minute standing ovation on Wednesday as the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was placed in front of an empty seat marking Hu Jia's absence.
The assembly listened to a video message from Hu's wife Zeng Jinyan, who thanked the European Parliament for its recognition of her 35-year-old husband. Also in attendance for the award ceremony were Elena Bonner, the widow of Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov for whom the award is named, and past award laureates.
Hu Jia was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on 3 April 2008 for "inciting subversion". One of China’s best-known environment and human rights activists, Hu Jia, is serving his sentence in Beijing City Prison.
He was one of the founders of the Beijing-based HIV/AIDS organization Loving Source, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping children from AIDS families. Together with Zeng Jinyan he regularly informed overseas journalists and human rights organisations of abuses taking place in China.
His family is concerned that he is not receiving adequate medical treatment in prison for his liver disease but the authorities rejected an application for his release on medical parole.
Zeng Jinyan and the couple's one-year-old daughter remain under tight police surveillance with officers stationed outside their home, limiting their visitors and following them when they go out. For the duration of the Olympic Games, they were moved outside Beijing.
Amnesty International considers Hu Jia a prisoner of conscience and has demanded his immediate and unconditional release and the end of harassment of his wife and their daughter. The organisation called the awarding of the prize a significant acknowledgement of the work of Hu Jia and the work of all activists in China who speak out against human rights abuses.