Iraqi Professor “sacrificed” from Sakharov Prize while alleged fraudster marches on
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Iraqi Professor “sacrificed” from Sakharov Prize while alleged fraudster marches on

The European Parliament’s prize for freedom of thought again came into question yesterday when an Iraqi Professor who “paid with his life” defending Christians against ISIS was excluded from the shortlist, while accused Azerbaijani fraudster Leyla Yunus made the cut. Iraqi Law Professor Mahmoud Al-Asali, a Muslim, was killed this year by ISIS because he stood up for the minority Christian population in his home city of Mosul.

But the vote went along parliamentary factional lines meaning Al-Asali was excluded from the shortlist of three.

This prompted one MEP to question the “mindset” behind the decision.

“There was a secret ballot of committee yesterday, and it seemed clear that the Sakharov candidates favoured by the larger groups were always going to fair better than those from the smaller groups,” said UK Independence Party MEP Jim Carver, a member of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament.

“As I figured, unsurprisingly, the mind-set of these people failed to understand the significance of the huge sacrifices made.”

A spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the Parliament, which had nominated Al-Asali, also expressed disappointment in the process.

“We think it would have sent a powerful signal for a Christian and a Muslim who had defended religious freedom in the Middle East to be awarded this prize, given the ongoing persecution Christians face,” the spokesman said.

The three finalists are EuroMaidan, the pro-European Ukrainian movement; Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist specialising in the treatment of rape victims; and Leyla Yunus, the Azerbaijani activist facing fraud charges in her home country.

Yunus’ original nomination was branded “inappropriate” by one MEP due to the fact it comes amid an unresolved criminal case against her. She has been investigated in her home country over her connection with a string of NGOs from which funds allegedly went missing.

The Azerbaijan Government says the case is a long way from being concluded.

Further comment came from UK Tory MEP Nirj Deva, who said, “I am very disappointed that the political will could not be organised for the merging of the two pro-Freedom of Religion and Belief, anti-Islamic State nominees (led by Mr. Juvin and the ECR group respectively).

“Professor Al’Asali was one such worthy candidate: a Muslim academic, who paid the highest price for his stand against IS, in defence of Christians.

“Given the horrific persecution facing religious minorities in the face of IS, a champion activist against this form of violation would have been the better, more pertinent message to send the world, via the Sakharov prize.”

This year’s nomination process has been dogged by controversy.

Last week the left wing GUE/NGL Group was forced to hastily 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”.

The Conference of Presidents will reach a final decision on 16 October and the award ceremony will take place on Wednesday 26 November in Strasbourg.

By Martin Banks