Amid widespread praise for Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was also the winner of last year’s Sakharov Prize, a leading MEP has warned that there will be “little public enthusiasm” for Europe’s highest honour in 2014 should it be won by an activist accused of fraud. Despite the fact Leyla Yunus faces tax avoidance charges in her home country, she made the shortlist for the European Parliament Sakharov award at the expense of Iraqi Professor Mahmoud Al-Asali, killed defending Christians against Islamic State gunmen this year.
“If the allegations against Leyla Yunus are true then she is clearly not a suitable candidate. If awarded the prize, I should think there would be little public enthusiasm,” said UK MEP Roger Helmer.
“My view is that the Sakharov Prize is less about celebrating freedom, and more about promoting the European parliament.”
Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, or group leaders, were due to announce the winner on Thursday but the decision has now been delayed until next Tuesday in Strasbourg.
Malala shared the Nobel Prize with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi; a man said to have saved 80,000 children from child labour. The award was entirely free of controversy, which, Helmer noted “contrasts sharply” with the Sakharov Prize this year.
A German centre right MEP, who did not wish to be named, also noted the “stark” comparison between the Sakharov Prize controversies and the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We need to contrast the public acclaim and unanimity of Nobel winners with mess of this year’s Sakharov Prize. After all, there hasn’t been a jot of controversy from the Nobel academy,” he said.
“The contrast between the two is quite stark.”
Aside from the discord over the Yunus nomination, the there was another Sakharov Prize controversy this month when the left-wing GUE group was forced to withdraw its support for an Egyptian blogger who advocated “killing all Zionists”. Alaa Abdel Fatah, had taken to Twitter to call for the murder of “a number of Jews”.
Malala´s victory has also been praised by the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso who said the choice “sends a strong message to those who try to impeach on the fundamental right to education, by violence, suppression and cowardly threats.”
Malala said awarding the Peace Prize to a Pakistani Muslim and an Indian Hindu “gives a message to people of love between Pakistan and India, and between different religions.”
The three finalists are Ukraine’s pro-European EuroMaidan movement; Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist specialising in the treatment of rape victims; and Leyla Yunus.
A Parliament source hit back at the criticism, saying the prize was “highly respected” and was given each year in honour of those who fought for freedom and human rights throughout the world.
The award ceremony will take place next Thursday in Strasbourg.
By Martin Banks