Rights nod riles Chinese

The harsh reaction to Hu's winning the Sakharov Prize contrasted with the friendly atmosphere Beijing was trying to project as it welcomed leaders from the European Union and Asia for a summit to tackle the global economic crisis.

Adding to Beijing's fury, the European Parliament bucked a Chinese pressure campaign against giving the award to Hu, an outspoken advocate on human rights, the environment and social fairness. Hu is in a Beijing jail serving a 31/2-year jail term for sedition. The charge stems from police accusations that he had planned to work with foreigners to disturb the Olympic Games in August.

“We express strong dissatisfaction to the decision by the European Parliament to issue such an award to the jailed criminal in China, in disregard of China's repeated representations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters. “It also violates universally recognized rules in the world.”

Hours earlier, before the award was announced, Liu's deputy, Qin Gang, told reporters: “To issue an award to such a criminal is interference in China's judicial sovereignty and totally against the initial purpose of this prize.”

The award cheered Hu's supporters and the rights community, coming after the Beijing Olympics drew the spotlight away from China's civil liberties lapses.