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Belarus’s Kalesnikava Shortlisted For Human Rights Prize


Belarusian opposition politician Maryaa Kalesnikava attends a court hearing in Minsk on August 4.

Jailed Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava has been shortlisted for the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which is awarded each year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor "outstanding" civil society work in the defense of human rights.

The selection panel on August 31 shortlisted Kalesnikava -- along with the Paris-based media freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres and Burundi’s human rights defender Germain Rukuki -- for this year’s prize.

PACE described Kalesnikava as “one of the three female symbols of the Belarusian opposition and its people’s struggle for civil and political liberties and fundamental rights.”

The nominee, who is on trial in Minsk in a case that the United States has called "manufactured" amid an ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activists by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is “at serious risk for her safety and life,” according to PACE.

Kalesnikava is a member of the opposition Coordination Council that was set up after the disputed election with the stated aim of facilitating a peaceful transfer of power.

She has been detained in Minsk since September 2020, and charged, along with another Coordination Council member, Maksim Znak, with conspiracy to seize power.

Verdicts and sentences in the case are expected to be handed down on September 6.

Both defendants have rejected the charges, which stem from their calls for protests against the official election results of a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that awarded Lukashenka a sixth term.

They face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

The winner of the 2021 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize will be announced at the opening of PACE’s fall plenary session in Strasbourg on September 27. An event will also be organized in Prague in honor of the 2021 laureate on September 29.

The 60,000 euro ($70,800) prize has been awarded each year since 2013.

Past recipients include Ales Byalyatski, the head of Belarus’s Vyasna human rights organization, Baku-based human rights activist Anar Mammadli, Russia’s veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva, and Oyub Titiev, the head of the Grozny office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechnya.

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