EU’s Sakharov Prize: Human Rights Award for Belarus Dissidents Sends Strong Signal to Lukashenko

Written by | Monday, October 26th, 2020

The European Parliament’s annual Sakharov Prize for human rights was awarded on Thursday (22 October) to the democratic opposition movement in Belarus led by the exiled Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood up to strongman Alexander Lukashenko. “They have stood and still stay strong in the face of a much stronger adversary. But they have on their side something that brute force can never defeat – and this is the truth,” the Parliament’s President, David Sassoli, told the gathered MEPs. “My message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side,” Sassoli added. Established in 1988 by the European Parliament, the human rights prize, named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded every year to individuals or organisations that “have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy”.
Belarus has been gripped by unprecedented protests since its long-time authoritarian ruler claimed victory over Tikhanovskaya in an August election. Since then, tens of thousands of Belarusians take to the streets every single weekend to protest against Lukashenko, Europe’s longest-serving leader, despite the risk of arrest and the threat of live ammunition used by police against peaceful protesters. The democratic opposition in Belarus is represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of women, including prominent political and civil society figures, set up to start a democratic transition of power. Almost all the figures linked to Tikhanovskaya – and the Coordination Council – have been imprisoned, placed under house arrest or forced into exile.
After the award announcement on Thursday Tikhanovskaya said she was “really glad” to hear the Sakharov Prize to the movement opposing Lukashenko. “This is not my personal award, it is an award for the Belarusian people,” she told reporters. This year’s choice has been widely welcome as it sends a strong signal to the people of Belarus. Its recipients – the dissidents and the Coordination Council – have refused to let themselves be intimidated and instead bravely stood up to a state armed to the teeth and have worked tirelessly to fight for freedom. In the wake of their country’s rigged August election, they have rightly demanded their civil rights be honored and respected — this is what the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is all about.

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