Friday, October 24, 2008

European Parliament puts China in tight corner with Sakharov Prize for dissident

The European Parliament (EP)’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was awarded to a jailed Chinese human rights activist and political dissident, Hu Jia whose field of work ranges from environmental causes to HIV/AIDS advocacy and a prominent voice calling for an official enquiry into the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The European Parliament every year since 1988 awards the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov. Individuals or global organisations are eligible if they have made a mark in the field of the fight for human rights or democracy.

Announced on October 23, on the eve of the 7th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), hosted by Beijing on October 24-25, the award is an open snub to the Chinese officials who had warned that they would consider it an affront.

Hu Jia is in prison and is stated to be in poor health with stomach problems. “To present this type of prize to a criminal amounts to interference with China's judicial sovereignty, and also shows disrespect towards human rights,” spokesman Qin Gang of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was cited as saying before the award announcement was made in Strasbourg at the Plenary session of the European Parliament, the only directly elected European institution.

With the formal acceptance of six new members, Bulgaria, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Romania and the ASEAN (Association of the Southeast Asian Nations) Secretariat, the gathering is set to swell the membership to 45.

According to political pundits, the Summit will be more a testing ground for the new arrivals with agenda being overshadowed by ongoing global financial events.

Yeo Lay Hwee, senior research fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Relations and Associate Director of the EU Centre based in Singapore warned, “we must not expect too much or we will be disappointed,” as ASEM is “not a venue for negotiations,” but “an ideal platform for testing new and evolving ideas.”

She was addressing a select gathering of diplomats, academics and journalists at a Brussels event titled, “Injecting new momentum into ASEM, an uphill struggle?” organised by Brussels based think-tank “European Policy Centre,” (EPC).

Addressing the audience Geoffrey Barret, senior advisor for Asia at the European Commission said, “ASEM is based entirely on political will,” and outlined four building blocks of the ASEM platform: Climate negotiations, Development co-operation on Millienuium Development Goals, Labour employment and social cohesion, Human rights.

With Hu Jia being bestowed with European prize, “human rights,” are set to be a thorny issue even if global financial crisis is supposed to hog the limelight.

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