Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and singer Joan Baez get Amnesty's top rights award

Wed Mar 25, 2015 12:05am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters) - Amnesty International has given its top 2015 human rights award to both Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, a fierce critic of Beijing who has been banned from leaving China after an 81-day detention in 2011, and U.S. folksinger Joan Baez.

The Ambassador of Conscience Award recognizes "those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work", Amnesty said in a statement on Tuesday.

Previous winners include Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, South African former leader Nelson Mandela and Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Through his work Ai Weiwei reminds us that the right of every individual to express their self must be protected, not just for the sake of society, but also for art and humanity," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's Secretary General, in the statement.

Shetty praised Baez for her "unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all".

The joint award will be presented at a ceremony in Berlin on May 21, the statement said.

But it is almost certain that Ai, 57, will not be able to collect it as he remains under close surveillance and is unable to leave China.

Ai said it was difficult to predict the impact his award will have on China, which is "pretty disdainful of these kinds of awards".

In an interview with Reuters, he urged other countries to continue criticizing China's social and political situation.   Continued...

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks during an interview with Reuters at his hotel in Beijing March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon