Chinese political activist Hu Jia has been formally awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Former recipients were joined at the ceremony in Strasbourg by Elena Bonner, the widow of Russian physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov, after whom the prize is named. Parliament president Hans Gert Pottering said that the prize was first won 20 years ago by Nelson Mandela, who was still in prison at the time. In that year there was an empty chair for Mandela, as there was this year for Hu Jia.
Hu is serving a prison sentence for subverting the Chinese state. His wife, herself under house arrest, had prepared a message. “I cannot at the moment do very much, but I’d like to use the 50,000 euros of Hu Jia’s Sakharov Prize as a start-up money to establish a foundation to support the families of human rights activists and to finally realise what Hu Jia had always wanted,” she said. She added that Hu had seemed in better health since being transferred to a prison in Beijing. Rights groups had voiced concerns that he had not been receiving sufficient medical treatment for cirrhosis of the liver.