The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia despite warnings from China that its relations with the 27-nation bloc would be seriously damaged if it did so.
In selecting Hu to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European lawmakers said they are “sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China.” Hu has advocated for the rights of Chinese citizens with HIV-AIDS and chronicled the arrest, detention and abuse of other activists.
After I posted a few weeks ago that I felt Hu was deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, I had an opportunity to discuss his career with friends of mine (Westerners involved in government) who are much more familiar with his activities than I. Since then, I’ve had rather mixed feelings about Hu Jia.
His arrest is certainly prima facie evidence that today’s CCP retains much of the prickly, pig-headed, uptight, asinine qualities of yore. And yet, there’s no denying Hu was often a self-promoter, practically shouting at the government, “Arrest me,” especially considering his timing. (He was warned that such antics right before the Olympic Games would not be tolerated, and he persisted in a most in-your-face manner.) None of that even begins to justify his arrest, but maybe it raises questions about Hu’s judgment and motivations?
Hu did dedicate much of his time to raising awareness of AIDS and environmental issues in China. But my friends, one of whom works at the United Nations, challenged me about what Hu has actually done aside from draw attention to himself and get himself arrested. I mentioned a project he launched to help AIDS orphans in Henan, and they countered that it was more hype than anything else. “Basically he wrote some emails,” my friend countered. “Do we award the Nobel Prize to someone who just sent out emails?” Before anyone jumps on a high horse and says I’m slandering Hu Jia (whom I’ve defended many times on this blog), please understand I am only saying I don’t know – that maybe he’s an example of our emotions (mine included) making us jump to conclusions. Or maybe he actually did deserve the Nobel Prize. As I said, mixed feelings.
Whether he deserves the Sakharov Prize is up for debate, as with any prize for political activism. In any case, if this inspires greater scrutiny of China’s repressive tendencies, paranoia and eagerness to arrest anyone who threatens to shed light on them, then I’m glad Hu Jia won.
I meant to put up a one-liner, and suddenly it became a tome. Good night.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.