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Navalny Dedicates Top European Rights Award To World's Anti-Corruption Fighters

Updated

A supporter of Aleksei Navalny holds a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin upside down in front of the Chancellery in Berlin earlier this year.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has called his Sakharov Prize -- the European Union's top human rights honor -- a "great responsibility" that sends a signal of support to anti-corruption crusaders around the globe.

"I feel that this is not only an honor, but also a great responsibility," Navalny, whose social-media accounts are run by his team, said on Twitter on October 21.

"I am just one of those many who fight corruption, because I consider it not only as the cause of poverty and degradation of states, but also as the main threat to human rights," he said. "I dedicate my prize to all kinds anti-corruption fighters around the world."

Navalny was chosen by European lawmakers as the recipient of the award on October 20.

"He has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and through his social-media accounts and political campaigns, Navalny has helped expose abuses and mobilize the support of millions of people across Russia. For this, he was poisoned and thrown in jail,” European Parliament President David Sassoli said in a statement announcing the award.

Many observers say the award sends a strong message to Putin that his fiercest foe is now a global figure and not just a local Russian phenomenon that the Kremlin has been portraying as a criminal who ran an extremist organization.

"We respect this body [the European Parliament], but no one can make us respect such decisions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on October 21.

Navalny was jailed in January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning he said was ordered by the Kremlin, a charge Moscow denies.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny's poisoning and imprisonment.

The 45-year-old lawyer was subsequently sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on a parole violation charge that he denounces as politically motivated.

Profile: Aleksei Navalny, Winner Of The Sakharov Prize
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Russian authorities have ratcheted up the pressure on Navalny in recent months, declaring his political organization and Anti-Corruption Foundation's (FBK) activities "extremist."

Since then, many of his allies have had their homes raided or their freedom of movement restricted, prompting some to flee the country, while others have been jailed on dubious charges.

Previous winners of the award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, include former South African President Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani campaigner for women's rights and education.

Navalny is the third recipient of the award to come from Russia since it was launched in 1988.

Anatoly Marchenko, a Siberian-born Soviet dissident, author, and human rights activist -- who spent more than one-third of his life in prison or internal exile -- won the award posthumously in 1988 along with Mandela.

Memorial, the Russian human rights group headed by Sakharov in the late 1980s, won the prize in 2009.

With reporting by TASS, Reuters and AFP
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