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Debates of the European Parliament

SITTING OF WEDNESDAY, 11 DECEMBER 1996

Annex I Formal sitting

IN THE CHAIR: MR HÄNSCH
President

(The formal sitting was opened at 12.35 p.m.)

Presentation of Sakharov Prize to Mr Wei JINGSHENG

President. Ladies and gentlemen, in awarding the Sakharov Prize the European Parliament is expressing its conviction that freedom of thought and speech, equal rights for every man and every woman and the inviolability of human dignity are fundamental values of human life.

These rights are neither  'granted'  by the state nor can they be withdrawn by a state. They are natural rights.

(Applause)

This applies not just to the Member States of the European Union. It is true everywhere, for all human beings.

Today is the ninth time we are presenting the  'Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought' . This year we are awarding it to Wei Jingsheng, as a tribute to his struggle for freedom of opinion and of the press, respect for human rights and the introduction of democracy in China.

(Applause)

It is true: human rights and civil rights are generally regarded in Europe, as they were by the founding fathers of the United States of America in the new world, as the true foundation of every humane political system. It is also true that their exercise is constantly at risk, here in Europe too.

And finally, it is true, and who could deny it, that human and civil rights are part of Western civilization, but the roots and seeds of the fundamental values from which these rights grow are to be found in every culture in the world. In his writings, Wei Jingsheng points out that Charles Montesquieu derived his doctrine of the separation of powers from the classical Chinese legal system. And the basic right that all people are equal before the law the mother of all basic rights was already stated 2000 years ago in the Chinese maxim that  'If the prince breaks the law, he shall be treated no differently from the ordinary man' . That is a Chinese maxim.

The San Francisco UN Charter, which enshrined the universally binding nature of the fundamental rights of man 51 years ago, is based on this ethic of humanity, which is common to every culture. To date 185 countries in the world, including the People's Republic of China, have formally undertaken to respect this Charter.

Europe cannot and will not force human rights upon other societies or even upon the world as a whole. But we can and will honour like-minded thinkers in other societies. That is also our right.

(Applause)

In every country in the world it is the best who call for these human rights, fight for them and sacrifice themselves for them, in times of need, oppression, degradation and lack of freedom of their own people. Wei Jingsheng has given impressive evidence of this in his writings, his deeds and his life. In honouring him with the Sakharov Prize today we thank him for this.

In December 1979 the 29-year-old Wei Jingsheng was condemned to 15 years' imprisonment as a  'traitor and counter-revolutionary' .

At that time the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping had published its  'Four Modernizations'  programme, for the army, agriculture, industry and science and technology.

In reaction to the reprisals in his home province of Anhul, the impoverishment of the peasants as a result of the industrial and arms policy, which may well have resulted in more than 20 million people dying of starvation in the late 1950s, against this background Wei Jingsheng attached a wall news-sheet to the  'Wall of Democracy'  in Beijing in December 1978 calling for a  'fifth modernization' , namely the introduction of democracy. He was convinced that Deng Xiaoping's four modernizations could not be achieved without freedom of the press, without democratic elections, without the participation of parties, without an independent judiciary and above all without respect for human rights. Wei Jingsheng disseminated his ideas in a journal entitled  'Tansuo' . He gathered likeminded people around him. He took fellow-countrymen from all over the country who came to Beijing to put their complaints into his home and gave them support.

What Wei Jingsheng did was simply to take the hopes for more political openness raised by Deng Xiaoping literally. In return, when he was just 29 years old, in December 1979, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a traitor and counter-revolutionary.

In September 1993, after 14 years in prison, he was granted an early, conditional release. At the time the Chinese Government was hoping to hold the Olympic Games in the year 2000 on its territory. Neither humiliations nor deprivations, neither the loneliness of imprisonment nor the ruin of his health could break his spirit and he continued his struggle courageously with the words: ' I offer up this life to the struggle for democracy in China' . At the same time he warned his friends against violence, saying: ' The Chinese democracy movement must adhere to the principles of openness, reason and non-violence' .

His shadowy freedom lasted only seven months. In April 1994 Wei Jingsheng was arrested again. Exactly a year ago, on 13 December 1995, he was again sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, accused of attempting a  'coup d'état' . He is paying for his support for the rights of the Chinese to fundamental freedoms with the loss of his own freedom, his health, his youth and his prospects of personal happiness.

The Chinese Government rejected my request to allow Wei Jingsheng to come to Strasbourg. Wei Jingsheng's sister, Sanshan Wei-Blank, who lives in Germany, is with us today. We offer her a very warm welcome.

(Loud and sustained applause)

She will receive the prize on behalf of her brother. We are happy that she is doing so.

Yet it would have been greatly to the credit of the Government of the People's Republic of China if it had allowed Wei Jingsheng to receive the Sakharov Prize himself.

(Applause)

We are all waiting for the day when Wei Jingsheng can come here himself and speak to us.

In 1979, when Wei Jingsheng began on his career, only a few people dreamed of democracy and human rights in China.

Ten years later, in 1989, millions of people demonstrated in Tiananmen Square for this dream to come true. In honouring Wei Jingsheng today, we honour them too.

We call on the Chinese Government to respond to the non-violent demands for democratic reforms not with prison sentences but by showing a willingness to engage in dialogue, a dialogue with its own people.

We will not interfere in this dialogue. The Chinese democracy movement knows itself what the people in China want. Wei Jingsheng has shown us that they themselves can name the criteria and priorities according to which they want these rights implemented and protected in their country.

Sovereignty protects no state from international criticism when it comes to the principles of human rights and international law.

(Applause)

If we criticize the Chinese Government we do so as part of the dialogue we are engaged in with the world and in the world. World-wide respect for human rights remains our unalterable aim. We know that like all political aims it can never be achieved entirely or completely, even with the greatest efforts. We know that freedom, equality and justice will always assume a different face and a different shape in the many different realities of our world, indeed in Europe too. We can and must always seek the most appropriate solution, but never, not in any case, must we lower our sights from the fundamental principle of human rights and the aim of protecting and respecting these rights to the best of our ability. We want to hold a dialogue with the People's Republic of China on precisely that question.

We want an open and free dialogue with the Chinese leadership, not just on trade and investment but also on respect for human rights, for the sake of the people of China.

(Applause)

Like Wei Jingsheng we are convinced that in the long run economic development is inconceivable without democratic development. China is facing great challenges. The  'Middle Kingdom'  will not be able or want to escape the pressures of the globally interlinked world in the long run either. China too will modernize its economy and its society, will link up with developments in science and technology, will introduce new methods, in order to offer more than a billion people secure living foundations.

China will not be able to master these challenges through repression or by sealing itself off. There is a Chinese proverb that says: ' When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others windmills' . Wei Jingsheng is one of those who build windmills. He, his family and his friends have expressed the longing of their people for freedom, democracy and justice in an exceptionally courageous, disciplined and steadfast manner. The day will come when China thanks him for it.

(Loud applause)

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for the year 1996 is awarded to Wei Jingsheng, a leading advocate of the Democracy Movement in China, as a tribute to his unwavering commitment, at great personal sacrifice, to human rights and freedom of expression.

(Loud and sustained applause)

Sanshan Wei-Blank. (DE) Mr President of the European Parliament, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me today to receive on behalf of my brother Wei Jingsheng the Sakharov Prize awarded to him by the European Parliament. At the same time I am very sad that my brother is still in prison and cannot appear here in person today.

When my sister and another brother of mine visited Wei Jingsheng in prison on 20 November and told him that he had been awarded the human rights prize, he was very surprised and pleased to hear that he was to receive this special tribute from Europe, the birthplace of human rights and democratic thought.

What moved him particularly was the news that it was the European Parliament that had decided to award him the human rights prize, as an expression of the democratic will of the people of Europe. Wei Jingsheng sees this award as an act of encouragement and support on the part of the European people, not just for himself but for the entire human rights movement in China.

At a time when the human rights movement in China is suffering huge pressure from two sides at the same time, namely the reprisals by the Chinese Government on the one side and the distant attitude adopted by all the large countries of the world on the other, at a time, therefore, when a number of human rights supporters who used to be very active are beginning to doubt the value and significance of the Chinese human rights movement and many people are asking whether their personal sacrifice is of any use at all, this encouragement by the European Parliament is of immense value. It instils a new self-confidence in many people and motivates them to continue committing themselves to the human rights movement.

For these reasons my brother has asked me to express his warm thanks today for the support of the European Parliament and the citizens of Europe whom it represents.

At this point I also want to thank you personally and on behalf of my whole family. We are convinced that this prize awarded to Wei Jingsheng will do much to help him overcome his illness and the torture to which he is exposed in prison and that this recognition will be a major step towards obtaining his freedom.

Thank you very much!

(Loud and sustained applause)

(Translation supplied by Mrs Wei-Blank of the speech she made in Chinese)

(The formal sitting was closed at 1 p.m.)

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