WASHINGTON – Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng called on the United States to remain steadfast in its support of democracy, human rights and free speech at a ceremony today awarding him the 2012 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize held at the U.S. Capitol complex. The award is the highest honor of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and was given to Chen for his tireless work promoting human rights and the rule of law in China.
“As for the United States government, I urge you to continue unwaveringly from your basic principles of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech,” said Chen at the ceremony. “You must not give in an inch or offer the smallest compromise when it comes to these basic principles. Even though the United States now sees a softening of its economy, and it is clearly difficult to shift attention away from issues of finance and the economy, remember that placing undue value on material life will cause a deficit in spiritual life. You must establish a long-term plan for human rights, and not compromise on it, ever.”
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation added, “Chen Guangcheng’s work standing up for the rule of law in China has been an inspiration to people from around the world. Today, we honor Chen’s contribution to the global struggle for human rights and his resolve in the face of China’s brutal crackdown on him and his family. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize was established to continue my father’s lifelong efforts to lift up defenders of human rights and shine an international spotlight on those who would tear them down. Chen Guangcheng embodies that fierce resolve to continue fighting for the values of decency, dignity, freedom and justice we hold so dear.”
Chen’s remarks were delivered in Mandarin and read in English by actor, social activist and member of the Lantos Foundation Advisory Board Richard Gere. Chen was joined on stage by his wife Yuan Weijing and Mrs. Annette Lantos, Chairman of the Lantos Foundation and Widow of Rep. Tom Lantos.
In April 2012, Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer, dramatically escaped house arrest in China and fled to the U.S. Embassy. He and his immediate family left China and currently reside in New York City, where he is a Scholar in Residence at New York University. Though he has worked for causes including environmentalism, property rights, and justice for those with disabilities, Chen is best known for a 2005 class action lawsuit against officials of the Shandong Province for abuses related to enforcement of China’s one-child policy. As an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Chen spent years in jail and under illegal detainment at home before escaping.
The Lantos Foundation established the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2009 to honor and bring attention to heroes of the human rights movement. It is awarded annually to an individual or organization that best exemplifies the Foundation’s mission, namely to be a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom and justice in every corner of the world. The prize also serves to commemorate the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a prominent advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades as a U.S. Representative. Former recipients of the Lantos Prize include His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2009), Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (2010), and Rwandan humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina (2011).