Legendary folk singer Joan Baez and world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei were today awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award at an evening ceremony in Berlin which featured performances from artists around the world.
The Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award recognizes those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work.
“Artists have supported Amnesty International since the organization’s very beginnings. Who better to receive this Award today than Joan Baez and Ai Weiwei — two brilliant individuals, who also know what it means to risk punishment for their convictions,” said Selmin Çalýþkan, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany.
Speakers at the Ceremony included rock legend Patti Smith, who praised Joan Baez for her commitment to activism, saying she never assumed to lead but ‘led by example’.
Joan Baez described the day as an “extraordinary celebration” and gave a special message to people around the world who might want to contribute to the struggle for human rights: “Everyone has a constituency. Even if that constituency is just one…. You have to find people to work with you on whatever your passion is. Don’t tolerate injustice.”
“No serious change happens unless people are willing to take a risk,” Joan Baez added.
Chris Dercon, Director of the Tate Modern in London, accepted the Award on behalf of Ai Weiwei saying:
“Ai Weiwei’s predicament, and the restrictions on his freedom of movement, are all too common for activists, dissidents and even lawyers in China. Pu Zhiqiang for instance, a lawyer who defended Weiwei, faces a possible eight years in prison according to his lawyers after being charged this week with inciting ethnic hatred and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’.”
“Ai Weiwei said to me this award is ‘for those who sacrifice their lives for a better society, for freedom of speech and expression. I am receiving the award for them. There are so many people in far worse situations than me’.”
Glass vase sculptures, designed by prominent Czech designer Boøek Šípek, were presented to the awardees at the event.
The Ceremony featured musical and theatrical performances from Germany and across the globe including: German songwriter and rapper Clueso; acclaimed actress Lisa Dwan; Academy Award-winning Glen Hansard; soul and blues singer Jo Harman; bestselling concert pianist and composer Gabriela Montero; and American jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Other guests at the Ceremony included Ensaf Haidar, wife of Saudi Arabian Blogger Raif Badawi. In 2014 a criminal court sentenced Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail. Amnesty International and Ensaf Haidar have organized a rally outside the Saudi Embassy in Berlin for noon on Friday, calling for Raif Badawi’s urgent release.
Background information on Pu Zhiqiang / other detainees in China
Hundreds of activists in China have been detained since President Xi took power in November 2012—and many still languish in jail from before then, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Activists detained over the last year include:
Human rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang: Last Friday, Pu Zhiqiang was indicted on charges of “inciting national enmity” and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” by Beijing prosecutors, primarily on the basis of comments he made on social media. If convicted he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. In addition to representing Ai Weiwei, Pu Zhiqiang has represented individuals in many ‘sensitive’ human rights cases, including those linked with the New Citizens’ Movement, a loose network of activists who aim to promote government transparency and expose corruption in China.
Journalist, Gao Yu: In April, Gao Yu, 71, was sentenced to seven years in prison on the spurious charge of “disclosing state secrets”. Her unfair trial, last November, was marred by irregularities, including Gao Yu initially being denied access to her lawyer. Gao Yu was a regular contributor to Deutsche Welle.
Women’s rights activist, Su Changlan: After posting continuous comments about the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests on social media, Su Changlan was detained by police on 27 October 2014. She has been formally arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power”, which could lead to life imprisonment. The case is awaiting the prosecutor’s decision to go to trial.
Activist, Liu Ping: Liu Ping was sentenced to more than six years in prison for publicly calling on the Chinese government to step up the fight against corruption. Liu Ping is one of many people who have been persecuted and detained for their links to the New Citizens’ Movement.
Academic, Ilham Tothti: Prominent Uighur academic Ilham Tohti was convicted on charges of “separatism” and sentenced to life imprisonment, a verdict Amnesty International described as an affront to justice. Ilham Tohti worked to peacefully build bridges between ethnic communities and for that he has been punished through politically motivated charges.