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Acceptance Speech for the 2018 French Republic Human Rights Prize

Tang Jitian, January 30, 2019

On December 10, 2018, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (La Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme) has awarded the annual French Republic Human Rights Prize to six personalities or organizations that have distinguished themselves in their country for the defense and promotion of human rights, and Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) is one of them. He was unable to travel to France to receive the prize. On January 14, 2019, the French Ambassador to China, Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert, presented him the award in Beijing. –– The Editors

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

I am very grateful to the French government for awarding me the 2018 French Republic Human Rights Prize (Le Prix des droits de l’Homme de la République Française). I think this is not only an affirmation of my own work on behalf of human rights, but also an affirmation of all Chinese human rights defenders, including lawyers. While expressing thanks to those who conferred this award, I also want to say thank you to friends from all walks of life at home and abroad who have expressed concern and given me support and help for more than 10 years. My life became more meaningful because of you!

Since entering the legal profession, especially after coming to Beijing in 2007, I was determined to use the law to help those who had suffered injustices. In addition to handling human rights cases, I also participated extensively in social actions, one of which was an effort in 2008-09, together with a cohort of lawyers to promote direct elections of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association. This action infuriated the Chinese government, and in April 2010, my license to practice law was revoked. Even though I suffered this blow of losing my normal legal practitioner’s identity, it didn’t stop me from engaging in rights defense work. On the contrary, I threw myself into the work even more actively, including the struggle for lawyers’ own rights and interests. And despite having suffered numerous rounds of forced disappearance and arbitrary detention, accompanied by torture, I nonetheless still had the same intention as before –– to continue to be active in the field of rights defense in China.

Although I’ve been restricted from exiting the country for nearly 10 years, making it impossible for me to fully communicate and work together with the outside world, my view was not completely limited. I still have friends from certain countries who have facilitated my work to varying degrees.

As everyone knows, France has a notable tradition of defending human rights. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen still has a unique guiding value for today. After the Second World War, and especially in recent years, the French government and civil organizations have made great efforts to promote the improvement of human rights in mainland China. Among the democratic countries, France plays a role that is appropriate for a major country. As a major democracy, France still has considerable room for expansion in promoting world development, especially in China’s human rights cause. I hope it can be even more proactive than in the past in getting involved in China’s human rights matters, and provide practical and effective support and assistance to human rights defenders on the frontline.

Contemporary mainland China has reached a critical juncture: whether to embrace civilization or choose barbarism; whether to practice universal values ​​or push the rules of the jungle; whether to preserve and strengthen the outdated totalitarianism or move toward a new democratic politics –– there is not much time left to waver.  

As a member of civil society, I look forward to China getting on the right track as soon as possible, but those selfish and greedy officials in the government are trying to pull the people back into barbarism. It is difficult to imagine what things would be like to have a China with 1.3 billion people suspended alone for a long period of time outside the civilized world: the deteriorating human rights situation in mainland China is not only a nightmare for the Chinese, but will also be a misfortune for all of humanity.

In the face of this grim situation, groups upon groups of Chinese people eager to live with dignity have fought for their rights and interests in various ways, so that future generations can live in a normal environment, and the Chinese nation will not become a burden to the world. Human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, are to some extent shouldering a historical responsibility. As one of them, I hope they will receive more understanding, attention, support, and assistance from the international community.

This award serves as both motivation and pressure. In the past, I only did my job as a human rights lawyer, therefore going forward I can’t stop doing what I am called upon to do. Instead, I should always remind myself not to be complacent, and do more work to the best of my ability using available means. Defending human rights has long been an integral part of my life. I will work together with other human rights defenders, from a new starting point, to make a due contribution to the protection of human rights and the advancement of the rule of law.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the guests at the awards ceremony!

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