Wei Jingsheng

Sakharov Prize Laureate 1996
jingsheng The "father of the Chinese democracy movement” lives in exile but remains an active leader of the opposition to the Communist dictatorship in China.

He is the author of The Courage to Stand Alone: letters from Prison and Other Writings, articles he initially wrote on toilet paper in jail, and now published in more than a dozen languages.

He was sentenced to jail twice for 29 years in total and served more than 18 years for his activities and writings in support of democracy, including his ground breaking 1978 essay The Fifth Modernization: Democracy. This began as a signed wall poster on the Democracy Wall in Beijing, on which workers, artists and intellectuals exercised their freedom of expression. It caused a sensation, not only because it openly assaulted the 'people's democratic dictatorship' of the Communists, but also because he dared to sign it with both his real name and contact information.

In the Exploration, an underground magazine Wei founded and edited, he wrote Democracy or a New Dictatorship? in which he identified Deng Xiaoping, then Communist leader, as the new dictator. Arrested three days later, Wei was convicted of "counter-revolution" and jailed for 15 years in 1979. He was on death row, then in solitary confinement, then in forced labour camps under strict supervision till 1993, when he was released due to China's decision to apply for the 2000 Olympic Games. Within six months he was arrested a second time, tried again, convicted of "counter-revolution" and sentenced to another 14 years.

At the time of his Sakharov Prize award in 1996 he was still in prison. In 1997, after overwhelming international pressure, Wei was taken from his cell and put on a plane to the United States. He maintains that he was not freed, but that his exile is further punishment.

From Washington, Wei leads the Wei Jinsheng Foundation, the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition and the Asia Democracy Alliance.

In 2013, he participated in the Sakharov Prize Network Conference which called on Chinese authorities to free all jailed human rights defenders.

He asserted his belief in eventual democracy for China in an article commemorating the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in 2014, stating that 'what is without doubt is that the Chinese people - standing on the shoulders of the heroes of 1989 - will find their way to democracy'.