CAPITOL HILL — Blind Chinese Activist Chen Guangcheng has urged his fellow Chinese to work for social justice as he received an award from a human rights group in Washington Tuesday.
“Although this award is being given to me, I feel that it is a strong validation of everyone working to defend human rights, social justice, and universal values.” Chen said at the ceremony on Capitol Hill.
Chen was honored by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, named for the late U.S. congressman Tom Lantos, who was a Holocaust survivor and prominent human-rights advocate.
U.S. actor and rights activist Richard Gere presented the award and praised the courage of dissidents such as Chen. "The man we are honoring today is someone who has inspired me and us in an extraordinary way, and I am so happy to be here to give him the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize,'' Gere said.
The 41-year-old legal activist endured four years of prison after he led a campaign for the rights of the disabled and against forced abortions in China.
The self-taught lawyer has been studying law at New York University since he dramatically fled house arrest and sought refuge at U.S. Embassy in Beijing last April. Chen complains the Chinese government has sentenced his nephew, Chen Kegui, to three years in prison as a punishment for his escape.
“In this key moment of transformation in China, international pressure is extremely important,” said Chen. “However, the Chinese sons and daughters back home need to understand that although others can help us, we need to be the main actors in this effort.”
He encouraged China’s people to learn from Burma, which ended its decades of military rule as well as media censorship recently.
He also urged U.S. government not to “give in an inch” when it comes to basic democratic principles, and not to compromise on human rights with China because of economic interests.
Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) said “to me, the central concern should be human rights. Human rights issue matters more than economic issue, matters more than anything else.”
Washington has urged China to stop further retribution against Chen's family members. Beijing has said it would abide by Chinese law.
The award is the highest honor of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. The previous recipients include Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.