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Sakharov Prize Decision Postponed Until October 21

  • RFE/RL

BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has postponed a decision on the winner of the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought until October 21.

The finalists are Ukraine's pro-Western Euromaidan movement, Azerbaijani rights defender Leyla Yunus, and Denis Mukwege -- a Congolese physician whose hospital has treated thousands of mass rape victims.

The European Parliament was to have announced this year's winner of the prestigious 50,000-euro ($64,000) award on October 16.

But its president, Martin Schulz, said the members deciding on the award did not have time to discuss it on October 16 because they have to plan for extra hearings on the makeup of the new European Commission after the parliament rejected a nominee.

Schulz also said the withdrawal of a Latvian member of the parliament from a far-right group had created a technical barrier to the decision.

He stressed that the decision was delayed "not for political reasons but simply because of administrative reasons."

Members of the European Parliament have said that in contrast to 2013, when there was broad support for teenage Pakistani girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai, lawmakers allegiances were split.

Parliament members said many Greens and center-right deputies want the prize to go to Euromaidan but social democrats, liberals, and members on the far left and far right have voiced opposition to that choice.


The Euromaidan movement derived from a wave of pro-EU demonstrations across Ukraine that led to the ouster in February of President Viktor Yanukovych, who had touched off the protests by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turned toward Russia instead.

It is represented by journalists Mustafa Nayem and Tetiana Chornovol, Eurovision Song contest winner Ruslana Lyzhychko, and student Yelyzaveta Schepetylnykova.

Some far-right and far-left politicians in Europe are supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has harshly criticized the ouster of Yanukovych.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March and NATO accuses it of sending troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people since April.

Russia denies involvement.

Yunus, a fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record, is known for her work helping citizens affected by the forced evictions in Baku and compiling lists of political prisoners in her country.

She and her husband are in pre-trial detention on high treason charges, and her lawyers said last month that she had been beaten by a guard.

The United States expressed concern about their continued detention on October 15, and UN human rights experts have said their arrests were part of a "trend of repression" in the oil-producing Caspian Sea nation.