Remarks From 2008 Democracy Award

Remarks by Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs

Thank you, Congressmen, Carl (Gershman), and Vin (Weber), for those kind words, and for your service on the NED board. Having served by your side, I can attest to the enormous commitment of time and energy that every member of NED’s board and staff gives to advancing liberty.

Today we are here to honor both those who cannot be with us as well as those who have risked much to do so. We are here to commit ourselves to supporting their goal of full democratic freedoms in China.

We honor Zhang Jianhong’s defense of freedom of expression – a call we support through the State Department’s Global Internet Freedom Task Force, which I co-chair. The Internet is an invaluable forum for legitimate debate in closed societies, and it is the responsibility of all free nations to protect unfettered access to information and ideas.

We honor Yao Fuxin and Hu Shigen for their commitment to worker’s rights; Li Heping and Li Baiguang for their leadership on religious freedom; and Chen Guangcheng and Teng Biao for their dedication to human rights and the rule of law – all essential elements of a vibrant democracy.

Each of these brave men has made significant personal sacrifices on behalf of millions of others in the quest to expand freedom in one of the most important countries today.

They give us faith that the hope necessary to continue on with this difficult work cannot be extinguished, and that there exists in the hearts of these four souls the courage of thousands, indeed millions, more.

The memory of one person who cannot be with us today remains close to my own heart, as I have little doubt it does to everyone in this room.

I can think of no more fitting recipient of the Democracy Service Medal than the late Tom Lantos, a giant in the the defense of human rights, whose absence long be felt. Having been a direct witness to the darkest evil of totalitarianism, his commitment to tolerance and freedom was forged in profound moral terms that few will be able to equal. His legacy sets a standard for which we can be grateful.

As an original co-sponsor of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, Representative Lantos was a driving force behind the State Department’s report on ‘Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism,’ released earlier this year – a report we were proud to dedicate to his memory.

In that dedication, we wrote that Tom Lantos “attested with uncommon eloquence to a truth based on an unspeakable experience: (that) promoting tolerance is essential to building a world of freedom and peace.”

Leaders of conscience from around the world join us in honoring Tom Lantos, and I thank the NED for recognizing his monumental contributions to those goals of freedom and peace to which we continue to commit ourselves each and every day.

Thank you.

Remarks by Xiao Qiang
Accepting on behalf of Zhang Jianhong

I am proud to stand here, receiving this honor on behalf of Zhang Jianhong.

This is a special award for Zhang, since he was a participant in 1989 Democracy Movement. From Tiananmen Square to the age of the Internet, Mr. Zhang reminds us that the spirit of free speech cannot, and will not be crushed by any forms of tyranny, whether they are tanks, machine guns, prison cells, or the Great Firewall.

An American Internet pioneer once famously said that “Information wants to be free !” I want to say that censorship in Chinese cyberspace will eventually fail because “Chinese people want to be free!”

Thank you, National Endowment for Democracy, for this recognition.

Remarks by Li Baiguang

I am grateful to NED for giving me the 2008 Democracy Award, which is great encouragement for me to continue to utilize the law to advance religious freedom in China

In the past 3 decades, China has achieved rapid economic development but political reforms remain relatively stagnant, and in some aspects have even deteriorated.

The result of a lack of supervision and checks and balances within China’s one party system is that China is lagging behind in advancing freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law.

However, my experiences tell me, that using law to protect citizens’ rights and freedom can play a role in restricting abuses of official authority and in empowering citizens in China.

As a lawyer, and with the support of my fellow countrymen and the international community, I will continue to utilize the law to fight arbitrary abuse of power, to educate officials, to seek justice for victims of rights abuses, and promote rule of law in China.

Acceptance Remarks by Li Heping

Today, I stand in a stronghold of Freedom and I am excited and inspired.

I want to thank all of those men and women concerned about human rights in China and around the globe. It is your hardwork that makes the world a better place.

God created humanity and every person has rights to four inalienable freedoms as mentioned by President Roosevelt:

  1. Freedom from fear,
  2. Freedom of speech and expression
  3. Freedom of religion,
  4. Freedom from want

Because humanity has limited tolerance of others, in many places around the world, to different degrees, these freedoms and the right of citizens to be their own masters is not guaranteed.

However, Chinese and Americans are working together tirelessly to improve human rights in the world. Americans have won respect of peoples from many different countries because of their outstanding contributions to human rights.

Between now and the time NED began to make the Democracy Award, 10 Chinese people have received this award and awareness of human rights has gradually increased. To have so many Chinese citizens receive this award makes it clear that China’s democracy is still not perfect and it needs the efforts and resources of more Chinese citizens as well as support from the international community to improve it.

Honorable ladies and gentlemen, if you consider commendable my normal professional labors and honor my efforts in the name of freedom, then I am filled with awe and am thankful beyond measure.

But all the glory belongs to god.

Reflections on Receiving the Award
Teng Biao

The National Endowment for Democracy has, in the past, given this Democracy Award to Mr. Havel; and it is not a coincidience that his philosophy and actions have inspired countless rights defenders and intellectuals in China.

The fates of people are interconnected, the violation of freedom and dignity to one individual is a violation to all. Freedom and democracy is the profession of all mankind.

Yet, this reasoning as been called an empty “fantasy,” and gradually abandoned or mocked. The stories of persecution against people who have faced these challenges are unknown to the outside world, and many around them cannot understand their choice to struggle for freedom.

Life must continue for those people living under authoritarian regimes, whether they are given praise or not. Where I am from, even to protect basic dignities, to obey the call of conscience inside one’s heart, requires tremendous effort and sacrifice.

For example, in March of this year, when I was abducted by secret police, they covered my head, stuffed me into a car, brought me to a secret interrogation room, took out an already printed version of my article, and threatened: “just based on these articles, we can imprison you for five or ten years.” They confiscated my passport, cancelled my lawyer’s license, and again and again told me to keep my mouth shut.

In several prisons in Guizhou, Jiangxi, Hebei, and Guangdong, I have had conversations with several prisoners wrongfully sentenced to death because of confessions extracted through torture. They all believe that one day they will be proven innocent and given freedom.

I too have hope and believe that greater freedom will come to China one day, but not because time will bring change. Rather, it will be earned by the hard work of citizens.

My thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy; you stand on the side of democracy and the people, not out of a cost-benefit analysis, but out of a commitment to shoulder a common responsibility toward humanity.

While the fight for freedom itself enriches our spirit and makes us happy, because of the existence of NED and other international supporters’ voices that firmly guard universal values, those alienated, forgotten, and imprisoned people shall feel some joy and comfort.

I know that if Chen Guangcheng could communicate from his prison cell he would join me in thanking all of you for standing with us in our struggle.

Closing Remarks by Carl Gershman, President, the National Endowment for Democracy

I have a special message that I want to read about Tom, that I think is relevant to this entire event. It’s from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who considered Tom “a truly great friend of the Tibetan people.” And, of course, Tom was also a great friend of the NED and of everything we’re working to achieve.

In his message, His Holiness speaks of Tom as ‘a determined speaker of truth, untiring and unwavering in his support for the important human rights issues of our time,” a person who contributed greatly to “highlighting the plight of the Tibetan people.” He especially recalls Tom’s words last October, during the presentation to the Dalai Lama of the Congressional Gold Medal, when he urged the Chinese government to respond positively to the Dalai Lama’s “efforts to resolve peacefully the problem in Tibet.”

What has happened since then only confirms the wisdom of these words – the uprising in March, its violent suppression by government forces, the harsh denunciations of the Dalai Lama, and the rejection by the Chinese government of repeated calls for an independent international investigation into the protests and their aftermath. A statement issued on March 22 by leading Chinese intellectuals, among them Teng Biao whom we have honored this evening, echoed the words of Congressman Lantos, calling for dialogue with the Dalai Lama to “eliminate animosity and bring about national reconciliation,” and warning that “one-sided propaganda” and “a posture of aggressive nationalism” would only aggravate ethnic tensions and “harm China’s international image” as well as its “long-term goal of safeguarding national unity.”

Regrettably, these words have also not been heeded, as shown by the Chinese government’s intention to have the Olympic torch pass provocatively through Lhasa this Saturday.

But there is another kind of torch, representing an entirely different and more peaceful set of values. It is the torch held aloft by the Goddess of Democracy, a replica of which we have just presented to Chen Guangcheng, Teng Biao, Li Heping, Li Baiguang, Zhang Jianhong, Yao Fuxing, and Hu Shigen on behalf of all those who are fighting for human rights and democracy in China.

The Goddess is a Chinese creation, adapted from our own Statue of Liberty, but it is now a universal symbol of democracy. Eight years ago, on the 10 th anniversary of the stolen elections in Burma, the NED presented a wood carving of the Goddess to the National League for Democracy, whose leader, the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained or imprisoned for most of the last 18 years and whose birthday will be observed in the Congress this Thursday by Tom’s Human Rights Caucus. Significantly, this replica of the Goddess, which I hold here, was carved by a craftsman in Nigeria soon after democracy was restored there following a similar stolen election in 1993.

The NED has also presented this universal symbol of democracy to activists and leaders from the Czech Republic, Nicaragua, Serbia, Kosovo, Russia, Rwanda, Mexico, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Algeria, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Thailand, and Egypt. And of course, even before this evening, we have also presented the Goddess to Chinese activists – to Han Dongfang who is here with us now, as well as to Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan.

In addition, a 10-foot tall bronze replica of the Goddess stands just a few blocks from here as a memorial to the millions of victims of communism in countries around the world over the last century.

One day, I believe, the Goddess will stand again in Tiananmen Square. The crushing of the protests there 19 years ago did not destroy the spirit of democracy in China or the movement that it continues to inspire. On the contrary, that movement stands on the foundation laid in Tiananmen Square and proceeds from a higher level because of that uprising and the sacrifice of those who perished. The activists we have honored this evening are proof of that. May we be worthy of their courage and determination and provide the international solidarity that they need. Let us rise to that challenge.