For Immediate Release: June 28, 2012
New York, N.Y. —Chinese “barefoot” lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng will receive the 2012 Human Rights Award from Human Rights First, one of the nation’s leading human rights advocacy organizations. New York University professor Jerome Cohen, one of Chen’s closest advisors and a pre-eminent voice on the plight of Chinese rights lawyers, will also be recognized. The organization will honor the two men at its October 24 gala in New York City, an event featuring Meredith Vieira as Master of Ceremonies.
Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino noted, “When Mr. Chen was asked recently why he decided to seek protection in the American embassy, he responded, ‘The U.S. holds itself up as embodying democracy and human rights … what would it mean if they refused to take me in?’ As an organization dedicated to ensuring that the United States lives up to its ideals, we take Mr. Chen’s faith in our country as a challenge. We know that even when the United States government tries to push human rights issues to the side, they have a way of gate-crashing—reminding us who we are, and what we stand for.”
“Mr. Chen’s activism has reignited an international conversation about the need to protect human rights lawyers around the world who face great danger for their courageous work,” Massimino added. “We are thrilled to be able to honor him for his inspiring work and to recognize Professor Cohen, whose eloquent and persistent defense of Chinese activists throughout his distinguished career has kept their plight on the international agenda.”
Chen Guangcheng is a self-taught, or “barefoot” human rights lawyer. In 2005, he led a class action lawsuit against officials of Shandong Province, which had subjected thousands of people to late-term forced abortion, mandatory sterilization, and unprovoked late-night beatings. At that time, he and his family were detained for seven months. Chinese authorities arrested him again in 2010 and held him under illegal detention until he fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in April 2012. He was eventually granted a temporary visa to study in the United States.
Professor Jerome Cohen is a leading American expert on East Asian law at the New York University School of Law. Throughout his distinguished career, he has been an eloquent and persistent voice for Chinese rights lawyers, advocating on their behalf and pressing American lawyers to take up their cause. Cohen was instrumental in securing Chen’s visa to the United States to study at NYU.
Chen will join a distinguished list of Human Rights Award recipients honored by Human Rights First. For more than 20 years, Human Rights First has presented its annual human rights award to courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom around the world. Former recipients include: Shehrbano Taseer of Pakistan; Julius Kaggwa of Uganda; Viktória Mohácsi of Hungary; Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam of Darfur; Ludmilla Alexeeva of Russia; Helen Mack of Guatemala; Archbishop Pius Ncube of Zimbabwe; Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt; the Damas de Blanco of Cuba; and Albie Sachs of South Africa.
This year’s Human Rights First awards ceremony will take place in New York City on Wednesday, October 24. For more information about the dinner or to inquire about securing media credentials for the ceremony, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at email@example.com.