The European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought to individuals or organizations fighting suppression, intolerance and injustice. Moscow-based NGO Memorial, after a bloody year for human rights activists in Russia, will receive the 2009 prize at a ceremony at the parliament on Dec 16.
"We hope to contribute to ending the circle of fear and violence surrounding human rights defenders in the Russian Federation," European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said while announcing on Oct 22. Three Memorial staff, Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, will be invited to collect the prize, which comes with a &euro50,000 cheque. The 10 nominees in 2009 included a Palestinian gynaecologist Izzeldin Abuelaish, who has campaigned for peace with Israel despite losing his three daughters in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in January; and a Burkina Faso government minister, Mariam Lamizana, who has worked to reduce the genital mutilation of women. Each year the heads of EP political parties choose the winner of the prize, which was named after Soviet rights activist Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989).. In 2008 the certificate and cheque for &euro50,000 went to Chinese political activist Hu Jia, who pressed for an official enquiry into the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Other 2009 nominees include a second doctor, Denis Mukwege, the founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which helps Congolese women and girls who are victims of sexual violence. A Roman Catholic priest has also been nominated. Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly is a Vietnamese dissident involved in pro-democracy movements. Iranian human rights attorney and activist Shadi Sadr was nominated for her campaign against the death penalty, stoning for greater women's rights in Iran. Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano was nominated for his activism against organized crime in European Union countries. Each of the nominees has the support of a political group in the parliament or at least 40 MEPs. Previous winners include: Nelson Mandela (1988) Alexander Dubcek (1989) Aung Saan Suu Kyi (1990) Adam Demaci (1991) The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (1992) The Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodenje (1993) Taslima Nasreen (1994) Leyla Zana (1995) Wei Jingsheng (1996) Salima Ghezali (1997) Ibrahim Rugova (1998) Xanana Gusmão (1999) Basta Ya! (2000) Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Izzat Ghazzawi, Don Zacarias Kamuenho (2001) Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas (2002) The United Nations (2003), Belarusian Association of Journalists (2004). UPDATED Oct/09
Date written/update: 2009-12-16