Human Rights First honored Chinese “barefoot” lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng and the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning SHOWTIME series Homeland during its annual Human Rights First Awards Dinner in New York City on Wednesday.

Among the evening’s presenters were Academy Award-winning actor Christian Bale and screenwriter Jenny Lumet. NBC News Special Correspondent Meredith Vieira hosted the event.

Chen received the group’s annual Human Rights Award, an honor presented by Bale, who attempted to visit Chen during his house arrest last December and was rebuffed by Chinese authorities. Human Rights First selected Chen for his lifetime of work on behalf of the thousands of Chinese citizens who had been subjected to forced late-term abortions, mandatory sterilizations, and unprovoked late night beatings. His activism reignited an international conversation about the need to protect human rights lawyers around the world who face great danger for their courageous work. Chen’s daring escape from his illegal house arrest in April 2012 demonstrated that the United States serves as a beacon to those who are toiling for basic freedoms and human rights.

“Human Rights First is proud to honor Chen, whose bravery for risking a dangerous escape from abusive local Chinese authorities is inspiring. His daring defiance of a brutal regime gives courage to those in China and beyond who struggle for human rights,” said Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino.

The organization also recognized Professor Jerome Cohen, a leading American expert on East Asian law at the New York University School of Law and one of Chen’s closest advisors. He is a pre-eminent voice on the plight of Chinese rights lawyers, and has advocated on their behalf and pressed American lawyers to take up their cause. Cohen was instrumental in security Chen’s visa to the United States to study at NYU.

The Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment was given to the series Homeland for its depiction of the complex intersection of national security and human rights. Homeland executive producer Howard Gordon and others from the program were in attendance to accept the honor. In the show’s first season, American officials violate rights and are forced to deal with the consequences of these actions. “The drama Homeland centers on the catastrophic domino effect that could occur when the United States abandons its principles,” said Massimino. She added, “Popular culture has incredible power, not just to entertain, but to inform, advocate, and inspire.”

For more than 20 years, Human Rights First has presented its annual human rights awards to courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom. Former recipients include Shehrbano Taseer from Pakistan; Basem Fathy from Egypt; Julius Kaggwa from Uganda; Viktória Mohácsi from Hungary; Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam from Darfur; Ludmilla Alexeeva from Russia; Helen Mack from Guatemala; Archbishop Pius Ncube from Zimbabwe; Saad Eddin Ibrahim from Egypt; Albie Sachs from South Africa; Hina Jalani from Pakistan; and Mary Robinson from Ireland.

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