US State Department honours Chinese activist Ding Jiaxi as a ‘global human rights defender’


Chinese dissident Ding Jiaxi is one of 10 activists the US State Department named as honorees Wednesday of its 2023 annual Global Human Rights Defender Awards.

Ding, an engineer turned lawyer, is one of the highest-profile targets of China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers and legal scholars.

His advocacy goes back over a decade when he joined the New Citizens’ Movement, a loose collection of individuals that encouraged people to exercise their constitutional rights. The movement supported independent candidates to run in local elections, pushed officials to disclose their personal finances and demanded educational equality for migrant children.

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His work with the movement was cited in his 2021 indictment in Chinese court and highlighted in the award news release.

With its Global Human Rights Defender Awards, the US State Department hopes to raise the profile of activists in this 75th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS

Ding has been repeatedly jailed for his activism since 2013. In 2021, he was indicted for “subversion of state power”. Last year, he was tried in secret in Shandong province with no verdict announced.

In a statement to the court during his first trial in 2014, Ding said, “I want to be a citizen who has an opinion and a voice. I want to be a butterfly. The incessant fluttering of the wings of butterflies will certainly fan the wind of social transformation.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The awards are part of the State Department’s push to raise the profile of activists this year, the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The honorees were determined by the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. US embassies collaborated with Washington-based regional and thematic offices to nominate and choose the recipients, a department spokesperson said.

Second rights activist faces state subversion charges in secret trial

The honorees hail from 10 different countries and cover diverse issues ranging from media freedom to workers’ rights. In addition to Ding, the award honoured activists from Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania and Togo.

All 10 individuals have “far-reaching potential” and demonstrated “leadership and courage while promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms”, read the department press release.

Supporting human rights defenders remains a “key US foreign policy priority” as they are “integral to democracy, access to justice, a vibrant civil society, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability,” the State Department said in its statement.

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