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US Backs European Award to Chinese Dissident

The United States on Thursday expressed support for the European Parliament's award of its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese activist Hu Jia. China has vigorously condemned the award. From the State Department, VOA's David Gollust reports.

The State Department says it hopes the award to Hu Jia will underline for Chinese authorities the high regard in which the dissident figure is held around the world and help pave the way for his speedy release.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid made the statement in response to a question about the U.S. position on the controversial award by the European Parliament.

The inter-parliamentary body, based in Strasbourg, France, said Thursday that the imprisoned Chinese activist had won its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought - an award named for the late Soviet physicist and Nobel Laureate human rights advocate Andrei Sakharov.

The Chinese government expressed "strong dissatisfaction" over the decision, with a foreign ministry official in Beijing saying the award to what he termed "a criminal" is interference in China's sovereignty.

Gordon Duguid at the U.S. State Department said Washington is deeply concerned about Hu's imprisonment earlier this year on sedition charges. He said the United States has raised his case repeatedly with Beijing at the highest levels and hopes the award will lead to a reassessment of the charges against Hu.

"We hope that the recognition that the European Parliament has given Hu Jia, by awarding him the prestigious Sakharov Prize, will demonstrate to China's leaders the enormous esteem the international community holds for his important work as a human rights defender, and that China will release him immediately," he said. "We will continue to work with others in the international community to encourage China to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international human rights standards."

Duguid said no one should be imprisoned for expressing his or her views, or for working within China's legal system to improve the lives of his or her fellow citizens.

He said the United States looks forward to the day when China will recognize the contributions of its human rights activists, who he said work on some of the most difficult problems in Chinese society.

Hu Jia, an advocate for Chinese civil rights, environmental protection and rights for HIV-AIDS patients, was arrested late last year after testifying by telephone to the Strasbourg parliament's human rights subcommittee.

China warned in advance that the prize would harm Beijing's relations with Europe. EU lawmakers said the pressure was counterproductive.

In another development, the State Department Thursday said it is "gravely concerned" by what it said was the brutal beating by Chinese security officials of two sons of jailed Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, a leader of China's Christian "house church" movement.

U.S.-based human rights activists said the two young men were attacked by government agents a week ago and that one of the sons sustained a serious eye injury.

The State Department said it was deeply concerned about Chinese government harassment of Pastor Zhang and urged Beijing to release him, condemn the violence against his sons, and punish those responsible.

It said the United States is broadly concerned about what it terms a "pattern of intimidation" of Chinese religious-freedom and rule-of-law advocates and their family members, and called on China to live up to international human rights obligations.