Kremlin critic Navalny wins European Sakharov Rights Prize

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The European Parliament awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – Europe’s highest human rights award – to Russian opponent Alexei Navalny on Wednesday.

The anti-corruption activist, who survived a poisoning attack he attributes to the Kremlin last year, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s best-known national opponent.

After returning to Russia in January from Germany, where he received treatment for the attack, he was convicted of old charges of embezzlement and is now imprisoned in a penal colony outside Moscow, but continues to guide Putin.

His winning the Sakharov Prize, backed by the main political groups in Parliament, will further worsen ties between the European Union and Russia, to the lowest since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Navalny “has shown great courage in his attempts to restore freedom of choice to the Russian people,” said European Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala, announcing the award.

“For many years, he fought for human rights and fundamental freedoms in his country. It costs his freedom and almost his life,” she added during a plenary session in the French city. from Strasbourg.

Navalny, 45, was nominated but was not shortlisted for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Its movement in Russia was banned as “extremist” by the Kremlin and some of its allies were forced to leave Russia under pressure from the authorities.

The group, called the Anti Corruption Foundation, called the award a victory for all supporters of the “truth.”

“The Sakharov Prize is, of course, a reward for all of you. To all the people who are not indifferent, who even in the darkest moments are not afraid to speak the truth,” he said. on Twitter.

The largest group in the European Parliament, the conservative EPP group, called on Putin “to release Alexei Navalny. Europe calls for his freedom – and that of all other political prisoners”.

– “Loud voice” –

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg praised the award and said it was recognition of Navalny’s “important role (…) in supporting democratic values ​​and being a voice strong in Russia “.

He also called for Navalny’s unconditional release from prison and an international investigation into his poisoning.

Navalny, a father of two, has remained optimistic and still communicates with his supporters behind bars through social media accounts.

“Don’t worry, I will be released no later than Spring 2051,” he wrote on Instagram last month.

In the winter of 2011-2012, Navalny led the first mass protests against the Putin regime which drew tens of thousands of people and were sparked by widespread allegations of voter fraud in parliamentary elections.

He raised the bar in 2013 by running for mayor in Moscow, finishing second behind an ally of Putin.

The following year he was convicted of fraud charges in a case deemed “arbitrary” by the European Court of Human Rights and Navalny said it was designed to prevent him from participating in future elections.

In 2018, he was excluded from the vote that gave Putin his fourth presidential term.

The Sakharov Prize, created in 1988 and named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded annually to those who fight for human rights or democracy.

Last year, the prize of 50,000 euros ($ 58,000) went to the movement opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, a close ally of Putin.

This year, the prize will be presented at a ceremony during a plenary session of the European Parliament on December 15 in Strasbourg.

The other 2021 award finalists were a group of Afghan women who fought for women’s rights in now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and Jeanine Anez, a former Bolivian head of state who is jailed for leading a coup State in 2019.

bur-arp / rmb / spm


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