Sat, 28 Nov 2020

Belarus's democratic opposition has been awarded the European Parliament's 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

'It is an honor to announce that the women and men of the democratic opposition in Belarus are the 2020 Sakharov Prize laureates,' European Parliament President David Sassoli told European lawmakers.

An award ceremony is due to take place in the European Parliament on December 16, even though it isn't clear yet whether it will be at the legislative body's Brussels or Strasbourg venue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The award will go to several opposition figures, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Maryya Kalesnikava; Veranika Tsapkala; Volha Kavalkova; Syarhey Dyleuski; Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich; Tsikhanouskaya's imprisoned husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski; the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, Stsyapan Putsila; Ales Byalyatski from the human rights organization Vyasna; and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich, who was a presidential candidate in the 2010 election.

The three largest political groups in the European Parliament all backed the Belarusian opposition to win the prize, making the award decision by the leaders of the various political groups in the chamber on October 22 a foregone conclusion.

The two other short-listed candidates were a group of Honduran environmental activists and Najeeb Michaeel, the archbishop of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka have been ongoing since disputed presidential elections on August 9, resulting in several deaths, hundreds of injuries, and more than 10,000 arrests.

Lukashenka, in office since 1994, was officially declared the election winner with more than 80 percent of the vote -- a result which the opposition said was rigged and that their candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, actually won.

The United States and the European Union have refused to recognize Lukashenka's victory.

The annual human rights prize is named after the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov and was established in 1988 by the European Parliament to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists and the former Belarusian Presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkievich were awarded the prize in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

Ilham Tohti, the jailed advocate for China's Uyghur minority, won last year's Sakahrov prize.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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