Mainland human rights activists yesterday urged the central government to acknowledge universal human values and immediately release award-winning dissident Hu Jia . Bao Tong , a prominent political dissident, applauded the European Union's decision to honour Hu with its top human rights prize at a sensitive time. Hu was chosen by European lawmakers from among three finalists to receive this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought yesterday - the eve of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing. 'This is a huge encouragement for both Hu Jia and all freedom fighters and human rights defenders on the mainland,' said Mr Bao, who is still under close surveillance as a close aide to persecuted former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang . 'It's also a most important declaration of support for all Chinese citizens who yearn to have basic human rights.' Mr Bao said he hoped Beijing would be enlightened rather than offended by the EU's decision. 'What Hu Jia has been fighting for represents mainstream world values. If China wants to become a real modern power, it must first acknowledge universal human rights.' Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao condemned the EU for giving the prize to a 'convicted criminal' and claimed it constituted interference in China's internal affairs. Hu was sentenced to 31/2 years in jail in April on subversion charges. The authorities claimed he worked with foreign forces to disrupt the Beijing Olympics. Gao Yaojie , a gynaecologist whose campaign for Aids patients has been honoured by the United Nations and many western human rights organisations, hopes the Euro50,000 (HK$498,800) prize money will reach Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan , also a human rights activist, and their year-old daughter. 'I hope the authorities will at least not block the money. Their life has been very hard,' Dr Gao said. Wan Yanhai , another prominent Aids activist, said the award could lead to Hu's early release from jail. 'If time fast-forwards 50 years, Hu Jia might as well be remembered as a great state asset for helping develop China's human rights infrastructure,' he said. 'The authorities should show goodwill to Hu as soon as possible.' But Hu's lawyer thinks the opposite. Li Jingsong said the reward might be counterproductive. With the Olympics having gone smoothly, Beijing might have been thinking about releasing Hu on probation, Mr Li said. 'But it's unlikely the authorities will change their minds, because they wouldn't want to be seen as giving in to international pressure,' he said. Beijing is probably still irked by Hu's actions, but the 35-year-old political activist has already won the 'hearts and minds' of even the security guards who follow him around day and night. 'Half of them have said to me that Hu is a nice person and a true Christian who is able to love even those who have hurt him,' Mr Li said.