Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng received a human-rights award in Washington Tuesday, nine months after his frantic escape from house arrest to the U.S. embassy in Beijing led to his eventual release to the United States.
During the ceremony Chen said human rights and progress do not come from those in power. "Human rights reform is inseparable from political reform. However, under the leadership of the party, simply speaking about human rights is no easy task and, of course, defending human rights is even more difficult. But social progress does not come from those in power, whether or not they wish it to be the case," he said.
The 41-year-old legal activist had endured four years of prison, followed by an illegal and abusive detention -- separated from his family -- after he led a campaign for the rights of the disabled and against forced abortions in China.
Chen was honored in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, named for the late U.S. congressman Tom Lantos, who was a Holocaust survivor and prominent human-rights advocate.
U.S. actor and rights activist Richard Gere praised the courage of dissidents such as Chen. "The man we are honoring today is someone who has inspired me and us in an extraordinary way, and I am so happy to be here to give him the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize,'' Gere said.
Earlier, Chen, in a video message posted on the foundation's website, thanked the world community for its "great concern for China's freedom, human rights, the rule of law and social justice."
"In the wake of the Arab Spring," he said, while countries like Burma and Cuba liberalize, "China's human-rights situation is actually getting worse," Chen said.
He called on the United States, in particular, to shift its focus "from trade to human rights" as it engages with China, and for Beijing to keep its promise to investigate those responsible for persecuting him and his family in his rural community in eastern China for the past several years.
Chen escaped house arrest last year by climbing over rugged four-meter-high rock walls and jumping into a neighbor's pig sty. He suffered three broken bones in his foot, but managed to reach Beijing and the safety of the U.S. embassy compound.
He is now reunited with his family and studying law at New York University.
Washington has urged China to stop further retribution against Chen's family members. Beijing has said it would abide by Chinese law.