The European Parliament on Thursday, October 22, awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights to the movement opposing President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the win was for the Belarusian people, who have braved a brutal crackdown following an August election that the EU and others said was fixed.
The EU has slapped a wave of sanctions on allies of Lukaskenko, whose key backer is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia is unlikely to be impressed by this year’s Sakharov prize, having already denounced the choice of 2018 winner Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.
“It is an honor to announce that the women and men of the democratic opposition in Belarus are the 2020 Sakharov Prize laureates,” said European Parliament President David Sassoli.
“They have on their side something that brute force can never defeat: the truth. Do not give up on your fight. We are by your side.”
Belarus has been gripped by protests since Lukashenko claimed victory over Tikhanovskaya in the election.
Every Sunday, tens of thousands take to the streets to oppose Europe’s longest serving leader despite the risk of arrest and the threat of live ammunition being used by the police.
Tikhanovskaya, who was granted shelter in neighboring Lithuania after the vote, has called on Lukashenko to quit power before October 25, warning he would otherwise face a crippling general strike.
Keep the ‘pressure’
Tikhanovskaya on a visit to Denmark said on Thursday she was “really glad” about the prize.
“This is not my personal award, it is an award for the Belarusian people,” she said.
“We are fighting and we are not going to step down.”
The protest movement is largely unconnected with traditional political life and is mostly led by women and young people with no recollection of the Soviet era.
Almost all the figures linked to Tikhanovskaya – or the opposition Coordination Council set up to begin a transition of power – have been imprisoned, placed under house arrest or forced into exile.
Lukashenko has ruled out any major concessions, promising only vague constitutional reforms to get out of the crisis and staged a sham of a dialogue with opponents by visiting them in prison.
Tikhanovskaya meanwhile has won the support of the EU’s biggest players, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Europe’s support is a double-edged sword for the opposition, as Moscow and Minsk have constantly denounced a Western conspiracy.
But Tikhanovskaya urged Europeans to not let up in their support.
“The more people know around the world, the more support we have from international society, the more pressure the regime has on itself,” she said.
The Sakharov Prize, set up in 1988 and named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded every year to those fighting for human rights or democracy.
Last year’s award of the 50,000 euro ($58,000) prize went to Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence in China for “separatism.”
The prize is to be handed out at a plenary session of parliament on December 16.
The other finalists for the prize were environmental activists from Honduras and the Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq. – Rappler.com
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