MANILA (Reuters) - A blind Chinese activist who is serving a four-year prison term after exposing forced abortions and sterilisation in northern China in 2005 was awarded on Tuesday Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel prize.
The Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation named Chen Guangcheng as one of seven winners this year, citing his “irrepressible passion for justice in leading ordinary Chinese citizens to assert their legitimate rights under the law.”
Chen was sentenced to four years and three months’ jail last year for disrupting traffic and damaging property, charges his wife and critics say were concocted by officials angry at his exposure of forced late-term abortions in his hometown in Shandong province.
Chen, blind since childhood, was convicted in a closed-door trial in which even his lawyers were not allowed access.
He is known as a self-taught “barefoot lawyer” for providing legal advice to peasants who say they have been victimised by official abuses.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, named for a popular Philippine president killed in a plane crash, was set up in 1957 by the trustees of the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Nearly 250 people and 16 groups, including the U.S. Peace Corps and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have been recognized by the awards body since the first awards in 1958.
The awards, based on six categories, are given yearly to individuals and groups in Asia.
This year’s other winners, who also receive cash prizes of $50,000, were:
- Palagummi Sainath, a journalist whose authoritative reporting on growing poverty amid India’s economic boom led authorities to address abuses, won for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts.
- Jovito Salonga, a former Philippine Senate president who fought the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and led the legislature in ejecting American military bases from the Southeast Asian nation, for government service.
- Kim Sun-Tae, a blind Christian pastor who founded a church for the visually impaired and helped build an eye hospital and a mobile clinic for the rural poor in South Korea, for public service.
- Mahabir Pun, who helped connect rural villages in Nepal to the Internet and solicited donations around the world for computers and equipment for local schools, for community leadership.
- Tang Xiyang, an environmentalist who institutionalised annual Green Camps in China participated in by university students to advocate for environmental protection and conservation, for peace and international understanding.
- Chung To, a banker who created a foundation that addressed the AIDS crisis in Hong Kong and mainland China through education and counselling of infected individuals and their families, for emergent leadership.
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