The European Parliament has awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought to the democratic opposition in Belarus, led by opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“Let me congratulate the representatives of the Belarusian opposition for their courage, resilience and determination,” said the parliament’s president, David Sassoli, announcing the award.
“They have stood and still stay strong in the face of a much stronger adversary. But they have on their side something that brute force can never defeat – and that is the truth. So my message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side.”
Belarus is a former Soviet republic which became independent in 1990. Alexander Lukashenko has been president since 1994, and his election has been contested since this year, when he was standing for a sixth term.
The opposition contested the result when he won in August, and issued a call for him to free political detainees, stop repression and step down from office – none of which he has so far done.
The EU agreed the election was illegitimate, and imposed sanctions on Belarus as well as cutting off all diplomatic ties with the Lukashenko government. But the international outrage has only hardened Lukashenko’s resolve. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, by September they had 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detained opposition members, as well as sexual abuse.
The European Parliament, meanwhile, called for a comprehensive review of EU relations with Belarus at its plenary session in Brussels last week.
The Sakharov Prize, named for the Soviet nuclear physicist, Nobel laureate and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. The prize carries a cash component of €50,000.
Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, the United Nations and its former secretary-general Kofi Annan, Reporters Without Borders and Malala Yousafzai, campaigner for women’s right to education.
“I would also like to add a word on the recent killing of one of this year’s finalists, Mr Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo, part of the Guapinol environmental group,” Sassoli said.
“The group is opposing an iron oxide mine in Honduras. It is imperative that a credible, independent and immediate investigation is launched into this case, and those responsible must be held to account,” he said.
The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 16 December.