DHARAMSALA, June 1: Two Chinese activists, Liu Xia bo and Xu Zhiyong who were put behind bars by their government for championing human rights and democratic reforms in China have been honored on May 29 with the “2014 Democracy Awards” by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government-funded grant-making foundation.
The awards come ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and amid growing tensions between US and China over cyber-hacking allegations.
“Twenty five years ago, Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square crushing peaceful demonstrations for democracy,” NED President Carl Gershman said.
“Despite this brutal crackdown, and 25 years of harsh repression since, brave Chinese voices continue to call for democracy and human rights. The National Endowment for Democracy is proud to honor two of these voices – Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong – both locked in Chinese prisons because the regime views the power of their ideas as an existential challenge.”
The award to Liu Xiaobo was accepted by Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives and the award to Xu Zhiyong was accepted by Hua Ze, a signatory of Charter 08, human rights activist and a close friend of Xu at an event held at Rayburn House Office Building, in Washington.
At the same event the NED honored US Congressman Frank Wolf with the “2014 Democracy Service Medal” for tirelessly defending human rights in China and around the world. In 2010, the same medal was awarded to the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese intellectual and human rights activists was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment over “subversion” charges in 2009 for his participation in drafting Charter 08, a manifesto calling for reform of China’s human rights. When Charter 08 was issued on Dec 10, 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, it was signed by 303 Chinese intellectuals and dissidents. Since then, several thousand people from both inside and outside China have signed it. Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, much to the annoyance of the Chinese government.
Xu Zhiyong, a Chinese legal scholar and civil rights advocate was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in January this year for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. Xu was one of the founders Gongmeng or Open Constitution Initiative, a Beijing-based NGO that provides legal assistance to the disempowered and politically persecuted and, the main founder of the New Citizen’s Movement in China. Gongmeng was declared “illegal” and shut down by the Chinese government but not before it published a report criticizing the Chinese government of using propaganda to mask its policy failings in Tibet and creating an “aristocracy of corrupt and abusive government officials”. Among Xu’s prominent writings include “A Trip to Ngaba” an essay about Tibetan self-immolations, a shorter version of which was published by the New York Times under the title “Tibet is Burning”.
The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit, bipartisan foundation created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world. It is active in more than 90 countries, supporting grassroots, democratic initiatives.