Top EU rights prize goes to Belarus opposition movement




The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the opposition movement in Belarus.

The award cites the democratic opposition in Belarus as well as civil society activists, and includes exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who visited the European Parliament in September.

Tikhanovskaya became a top opposition candidate after her husband, who had intended to run, was jailed ahead of the presidential election on Aug. 9.

“The major protests that have taken place in the streets of Belarus moved the world,’’ parliament president David Sassoli said.

“We are also increasingly upset. Upset by the violent repercussions by Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko,’’ he said.

“I would like to reiterate that the government and the president had lost the elections. It is now time to listen to the voice of his people.’’

The European Union does not recognise Lukashenko as the current president as it claims that the elections were neither free nor fair.

Opposition supporters have conducted mass protests in Minsk every weekend since the disputed August 9 election, claiming that Tikhanovskaya won.

Tikhanovskaya’s team thanked the EU for the Sakharov Prize, saying in a statement that this award belongs to all Belarusians who have been continuing our common, peaceful struggle’’ for a transition of power.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a set of recommendations regarding the EU’s relations with Belarus, including that it recognises the Coordination Council, initiated by Tikhanovskaya, as the legitimate representative of the people in the country.

“I should like to congratulate those in the democratic opposition in Belarus for their courage, their resiliency and their determination.

“They continue on a daily basis to show that and embody the defence of freedom of thought and expression that the Sakharov Prize awards, ” Sassoli said.

Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Reporters without Borders.

It is the third time the parliament has given the prize to Belarus.

In 2004, it went to the Belarusian Association of Journalists and in 2006 to opposition politician Alaksandar Milinkievic.

The two other finalists this year included Najeeb Michaeel, a Chaldean Archbishop of Iraq’s former Islamic State stronghold Mosul, and Honduran environmentalists.

Michaeel had saved thousands of historic manuscripts and documents, some of which are more than 1,000 years old.

Hondura’s Guapinol environmental activists and Berta Caceres fought to protect the Gualcarque and Guapinol rivers.

Caceres was shot dead in 2016 and many of the activists remain in prison.

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