Amnesty International honored Chinese artist, dissident and provocateur Ai Weiwei with its Ambassador of Conscience Award, the group’s most prestigious human rights award.
“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,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, said in a statement.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Ai said that the award, also given to US singer and 1960s civil rights activist Joan Baez, was about his social responsibilities in the face of China’s continuing clampdown on free expression.
“I think as an artist, I use my own way to fulfill my responsibility to society,” Ai said. “Whether we have compassion for our own people or other countries, we all have to take responsibility.”
Ai, whose passport was confiscated by Chinese authorities around four years ago in a move that he believes was “politically motivated”, said today that he hopes he’ll be able to attend the May 21 award ceremony in Berlin, although it doesn’t seem likely.
A spokeswoman from China’s Foreign Ministry reportedly declined to comment on the award, saying only that she hopes the human rights group can regard the country “objectively”.