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STRASBOURG 26 Oct 2012 European parliamentarians announce Sakharov Prize winner
A civil society activist from Belarus, the director of a centre offering legal assistance to victims of Pakistan’s blasp

October 26, 2012 - NULL

STRASBOURG 26 Oct 2012 European parliamentarians announce Sakharov Prize winner
A civil society activist from Belarus, the director of a centre offering legal assistance to victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, three Rwandan opposition representatives, a Russian feminist punk-rock group, an Iranian lawyer and an Iranian film director are the nominees for this year's €50,000 (US $64,408) Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. More often than not, the winning individual or organization is demonized by the government in their home country. The Kremlin has already expressed displeasure at the nomination of jailed Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, and the Parliament

STRASBOURG 26 Oct 2012 European parliamentarians announce Sakharov Prize winner
A civil society activist from Belarus, the director of a centre offering legal assistance to victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, three Rwandan opposition representatives, a Russian feminist punk-rock group, an Iranian lawyer and an Iranian film director are the nominees for this year's €50,000 (US $64,408) Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. More often than not, the winning individual or organization is demonized by the government in their home country. The Kremlin has already expressed displeasure at the nomination of jailed Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, and the Parliament can expect more heat if the group is awarded the prize.
Famed for unannounced performances in well-known public places, the punk group hit the headlines in March when three of its members were arrested and charged with hooliganism after protesting in a cathedral against Russian President Vladimir Putin. They were sentenced to two years in a labor camp. Parliament is honoring them, according to German Green deputy Werner Schultz, for having "shone a light on and protested against an autocratic system with courage, creativity and inner force."

According to the European Observer, the Russian foreign ministry described the nomination of the band as "a crude attempt to interfere with the work of an independent branch of the Russian government and an endeavour to question a decision of the court that delivered its verdict in due process."

A Belarusian, Ales Bialiatski is also in prison. A freedom of speech activist in Belarus, he founded the Viasna Human Rights Centre, an NGO that provides financial and legal assistance to political prisoners and their families. The Belarusian Association of Journalists won the prize in 2004.

The EU Observer writes that Rwandan nominees - jailed opposition leaders Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Deogratias Mushayidi and Bernard Ntaganda - are being honored for their role in the country's reconciliation process.

Joseph Francis, the founder of a legal centre for victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, is also being honored for his role in his country's reconciliation process.

Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi, an Iranian lawyer and film-maker respectively, also made the list of semifinalists.

The heads of EP political groups choose the winner of the prize each year, The semifinalists were announced in September. The six will be whittled down to three on Oct 9, with the winner announced on Oct 26. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony at the European Parliament on Dec 12.

The prize was named after Soviet rights activist Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989).

In 2011, the prize went to five representatives of the Arab Spring, in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights. 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). (WRITTEN SEP 2012)

RELATED READING:

Pussy Riot lead nominees for EU freedom prize (EU Observer 26 Sep 2012)
http://euobserver.com/news/117668

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/content/20120921FCS52015/html/Sakharov-Prize-for-Freedom-of-Thought-2012-5-nominees

Date written/update: 2012-10-26