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Zeng Jinyan's Sakharov Prize Acceptance Speech on behalf of Hu Jia

December 17, 2008

Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕), wife of imprisoned HIV/AIDS activist and rights defender, Hu Jia (胡佳), accepted the European Parliament's 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on behalf of Hu, via a video appearance at the award ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg at noon on December 17. Hu was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" in April 2008, and is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term in Beijing. Zeng is herself under house arrest.

In her video, Zeng said that the prize is for all the rights defenders in China and their families who have endured hardships. Zeng said that, respecting Hu's wishes to support these families, she has decided to contribute the prize money – 50,000 euros (66,800 dollars) – as seed money to establish a foundation that supports the families of rights defenders. Zeng also said that during a prison visit with Hu, Hu told her that he hopes that no others in China will again lose their freedom for expressing their own views, and that he is the last person to be punished for his speech.

The video and the Chinese original and English translation of Zeng's speech are available on Zeng's blog. The text of her speech in Chinese is also available on HRIC's website. Audio of the ceremony, including Zeng Jinyan's speech, is available on the European Parliament website.

Sakharov Prize Acceptance Speech

By Zeng Jinyan

Respected Members of the European Parliament, dear friends who have shown concern for human rights and worked hard to promote them; ladies and gentlemen,

Many thanks to members of the European Parliament for awarding the 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to my husband Hu Jia. Since Hu Jia is currently still held in prison, our communications are monitored. When we meet, we have to speak through a glass panel and the conversation is tapped. Therefore we were not able to discuss the award directly. When I went to visit him in the Beijing Municipal Prison on 21 November 2008 we had both separately received warnings from the police: You must not raise the issue of the Sakharov Prize, otherwise your telephone conversation through the glass panel will be immediately broken off.

But at least, the state security police had had to tell Hu Jia about the Sakharov Prize prior to our meeting — because they were trying to persuade him to turn it down. They even arranged for a separate meeting between Hu Jia and his parents, who were supposed to use their influence to persuade him. They also requested that Hu Jia’s family issue an open letter acknowledging that Hu Jia was a criminal, and did not deserve the Prize. From the state security police and Hu Jia’s parents as separate sources, I learned that when Hu Jia heard he had been awarded the 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought he made the following few comments: ‘Then the state security police put you under a lot of pressure didn’t they?….I have not yet done enough human rights work. Maybe they [i.e. the members of the European Parliament] took my work on environmental and AIDS issues into account…This is an important prize for China. I believe that in the not too far-off future it may serve to prove that I was right….’ And when I saw him, Hu Jia said furtively, ‘trust me, [no matter how big the pressure] my [beliefs] will not change.’

Hu Jia will soon have been in prison for a year, and my passport has been confiscated; so, very unfortunately, we are unable to attend the award ceremony and the celebration of the [prize’s] 20th anniversary. Writing this letter of thanks on Hu Jia’s behalf makes me feel both unfortunate and very honored. China is right now going through the most open period of its entire history; yet many of our fellow-citizens, including my husband, are still imprisoned merely because of their thoughts and words. That is the tragedy and the sorrow of our time. What is fortunate is that many friends all over the world have not forgotten us. I have received hundreds — nearly a thousand postcards, greetings cards, and emails from people from different countries and regions. By awarding the 2008 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Hu Jia, the European Parliament has added its expression of concern and support for human rights in China, and given affirmation to the Chinese human rights defenders’ work and their struggle.

I think that this prize has gone to all of China’s rights defenders and their harassed family members. No matter how bad the political environment, there has always been a group of people with a conscience in China, people who have never abandoned the task of seeking justice through the judicial process and pursuing the goal of a more just society. On the long and hard road of rights-defending they and their relatives have paid an extremely high price - the price of repression, isolation, of dismissal from jobs; the price of seeing their children lose their jobs or lose out on schooling, of being unlawfully deprived of their liberty, beaten, thrown into prison and even forced to leave the country. Among them there are reporters, authors, lawyers, independent professionals, teachers, ordinary employees, many peasants and small business owners. The large group of Chinese petitioners is a representative example of such people. Therefore, I want to respect a wish that Hu Jia had expressed many times toward me: he was hoping to set up a network providing support to the families of rights defenders. So under current circumstances that render it impossible to do more work, I have decided to donate the 50,000 Euro award as starting capital to set up a foundation for the support of the families of Chinese human rights defenders. It will be a way of putting our energy into alleviating the suffering of the families of human rights defenders. We must support each other and pass through these difficult times together.

When Hu Jia was put into prison a friend from the media asked me, ‘so what actually is it that Hu Jia has done to get himself sent to prison?’ I thought for a while and answered, ‘if he has done anything of importance, it is that he has persisted in speaking the truth. And really, China has already had some previous generations of activists who have worked in the areas of environmental protection, of care for people infected with HIV/AIDS, rights activism, help for the victims of June Fourth, some of whom are disabled, and similar areas, contributing a great amount of effort and time. These people have all done extraordinary work and benefited the interests of a great number of disadvantaged groups in society. Hu Jia is not a saint. He is just a person with the pure and simple heart, the honesty, caring and concern of a child. He is a person who will speak out truthfully about what he has seen and heard. He is a person who will plunge himself into the work of his calling wholeheartedly, so unconcerned for himself that it makes him quite fearless. In 2001, when HIV/AIDS was still a prohibited topic in China and the number of suspected AIDS cases was treated as a “state secret,” he took the risk of being chased and arrested by police to bring warm winter clothes to the rural areas affected by AIDS, and to visit the terminally ill who lived in despair, pushing for their rescue and treatment.. He also disclosed to the outside world what the HIV/AIDS patients were really suffering, and told the story of how they had become infected with HIV by selling their blood in the 1980s and 1990s, as a consequence of disastrous public health policies. As he deepened his involvement and widened the field of his activities, he came into more contact with the cruel realities. Hu Jia cannot sit still and watch as injustice in society happens. Again and again he launched public appeals to elicit concern from the wider public. As a consequence, from 2004 onward, he was more and more often abducted or found himself detained in his home. After Hu Jia had lost his freedom of movement, the most important thing he continued doing was to tell the truth loudly and clearly about every new situation brought to his attention.

In an empire of lies, to speak the truth loudly takes great courage. You will have to withstand pressures of unexpected magnitude and may have to pay a heavy price. The scarcer the truth is, the more we need it. It is because we did not speak the truth that we lost the purity of our blood and that AIDS, hepatitis B, SARS and other infectious illnesses have claimed many lives amongst the people of this country. We lost our unpolluted earth and water, and now state-owned, privately-owned, and foreign-owned enterprises continue to pollute the natural environment that mankind as well as animals and plants rely on for their existence. Even after we have lost some of our children, melamine tainted milk and eggs continue to harm people’s health and make the younger generation even weaker. We have lost parents, who even in old age may still be locked up in reform-through-labor prisons, or - under a different name - in psychiatric hospitals. We lost our homes when they built tofu-dreg high-rises, and a small natural disaster led to a major man-made catastrophe. We have lost our beliefs working like slaves Just so that others could make more profit, numberless ‘black’ [i.e. illegally employed] workers have continued to disappear. We have lost our happiness: there is no justice in the courts or in society. We [Chinese], the ‘descendants of the dragon,’ live with no sense of security, in fearfulness, grief and helpless indignation. So is this the ‘harmonious’ and ‘secure’ life that we have been seeking?

We should have, and we could have a good life. When Hu Jia is defending human rights he is just being true to his nature. As human beings, we are born with natural rights and sacred inviolable freedoms. To defend rights means to defend human dignity and to reject all forms of slavery, of torture, of cruel injury to human dignity, of intimidation and degradation. Rights-defending starts from protecting one’s own right to know, to think freely and to express oneself without fear. Even though he was up against so much oppression and so many attacks, Hu Jia was never afraid. And even when he was physically imprisoned and mentally harassed, he always maintained great optimism and confidence about China’s future. Once when I saw him in prison, he said: ‘I hope I will be the last person put in prison for my speech. I don’t want more people to be locked up for merely expressing their views.’

But the current reality unfortunately does not leave much room for optimism. Since Hu Jia was imprisoned – within just half a year – Zeng Hongling, Chen Daojun, Huang Qi and others have also been locked up or convicted of crimes for publishing their views. We are left with the only hope that China may soon revert to normalcy; that it will become a haven of democracy, rule of law and freedom, and emerge as an active, peaceful and responsible member of international society. This is not a far-off goal; but to reach it, people in- and outside China must speak the truth and, based on this, reflect on China’s situation as it really is, as well as on ways to address the situation. The goal can be reached only if everybody protects their rights actively, and if we all support the human rights movement and the construction of the rule of law. Only then will everyone really enjoy freedom of expression and religion and be able to live in freedom from want and from fear, in a peaceful homeland.

In the name of my husband Hu Jia, I would like to thank the members of the European Parliament again. I would like to salute all the previous winners of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and all those who have courageously promoted human rights!

Zeng, Jinyan 曾金燕

Wife of Hu Jia

22 November 2008

SOURCE: For the original text on Zeng Jinyan's blog, see

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