Saturday 11/28/20

Top EU human rights prize goes to Belarus opposition movement

The award for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought cites the democratic opposition in Belarus as well as civil society activists, and includes exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
File photo of the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa.
File photo of the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa.

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to the opposition movement in Belarus who are demanding the ouster of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko after 26 years in power.

The award for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 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 August 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 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 recognize 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. Thousands of protesters have been detained and some have been beaten by police.

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.

In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, Tikhanovskaya told reporters: "This is not my personal award, it is an award for the Belarusian people."

The Belarusian opposition leader was on a two-day visit to Denmark to receive the daily Politiken's Freedom Prize worth 100,000 kroner (16,000 dollars) and meet the Danish foreign minister, among others.

She told reporters in Copenhagen the Belarusian opposition movement was "unique because there is not one leader" making it difficult for the Lukasehnko regime to quell it.

EU Recommendations

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

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.

Honduras' 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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