Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award is the organization’s top honour, recognizing those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work.
The Award will be presented at a ceremony in Berlin on 21 May 2015, with speakers including singer-songwriter Patti Smith.
“The Ambassador of Conscience Award is a celebration of those unique individuals who have used their talents to inspire many, many others to take injustice personally. That is why both Joan Baez and Ai Weiwei make such worthy recipients; they are an inspiration to thousands more human rights activists, from across Asia to America and beyond,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Joan Baez’s performance to the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in Alabama. She performed at the “Stars for Freedom” rally alongside fellow artists including Harry Belafonte (who was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2013), Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Paul & Mary and Nina Simone.
Joan Baez has dedicated most of her life to non-violence, and civil and human rights activism. She has participated in marches for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; advocated against the death penalty; campaigned for peace and against human rights abuses in Vietnam; defended the rights of California’s migrant farm workers; attended anti-torture rallies; and supported gay and lesbian rights campaigns.
She helped establish local Amnesty International groups in the San Francisco Bay area in the early ‘70s, and went on to perform in support of the organization during the groundbreaking “Conspiracy of Hope” music tour on Amnesty International’s 25th anniversary in 1986.
“With her mesmerizing voice and unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all, Joan Baez has been a formidable force for good over more than five decades,” said Salil Shetty.
On learning of the announcement, Joan Baez said: “Amnesty International attracted me because of its founding principle that all human rights abuses and the suffering they create are unacceptable. The process of eliminating those abuses, even one step at a time, has created a compassionate, non-partisan, powerfully effective movement. I’m lucky to be part of it and proud to be honored with this Award.”
Ai Weiwei is a world-renowned artist and frequent critic of the Chinese government’s policies. His acclaimed work often explores the limits placed on the right of people in China to express themselves, as well as his personal experience of incarceration. His activities and work frequently deal with sensitive issues that the Chinese government would prefer were not raised.
In 2010, Ai Weiwei was briefly detained and severely beaten by security officials just before he was due to testify for the defence during the trial of Tan Zuoren, an environmental activist who, along with Ai Weiwei, had documented the names of thousands of children who died during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
After persistent harassment from the authorities, Ai Weiwei was detained in 2011 for 81 days without charge. A company he founded was later convicted of tax evasion by the Chinese authorities. Ai Weiwei remains under surveillance and is unable to leave the country.
His recent work includes an exhibit at Alcatraz, California, highlighting the plight of modern day political prisoners.
“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.
On learning of the announcement, Ai Weiwei said: “I am very privileged to receive this special honour, and shall not fail the encouragement and profound expectation of me with this Award.”