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Belarusian Opposition Awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize By European Parliament


Veranika Tsapkala (left), Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya (center), and Maryya Kalesnikava (file photo)
Veranika Tsapkala (left), Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya (center), and Maryya Kalesnikava (file photo)

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.

"I would like to congratulate the representatives of the Belarusian opposition for their courage, resilience, and determination that they have been showing every day in defense of the freedom of thought and expression. This is what the Sakharov Prize is awarded for," Sassoli said.

The award will go to several opposition figures, including presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Maryya Kalesnikava; Veranika Tsapkala; Volha Kavalkova; and Syarhey Dyleuski; as well as 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.

"They have shown and continue to show their strength in face of a very powerful adversary, but what keeps them going is the [conviction] that violence can never defeat the truth," Sassoli said.

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.

Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus for Lithuania shortly after the election amid threats to her and her family, said she was "really glad" to hear of the European Parliament's decision.

"This is not my personal award. It is an award for the Belarusian people," she told reporters during a visit to Copenhagen.

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 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.

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 50,000 euro ($60,000) 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.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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