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Press conference with Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya Press conference with Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya  (ANSA)

EU Awards top human rights prize to Belarus opposition

The European Union has awarded its top human rights prize to the Belarus opposition movement and its leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. They received the Sakharov Prize for their challenge to what EU leaders view as Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's long, hard-line reign.

By Stefan J. Bos

The president of the EU's European Parliament, David Sassoli, called it an “honor to announce that the women and men of the democratic opposition in Belarus are the 2020 Sakharov Prize laureates.”

In a statement, he said that "They have on their side something that brute force can never defeat: the truth." And Sasolli told the opposition: "Do not give up on your fight. We are by your side."

The prize ceremony takes place at a plenary session of the European Parliament on December 16. Other finalists for the award were environmental activists in Honduras, including the murdered Berta Cáceres and Najeeb Michael, the Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq.

The Sakharov Prize was set up in 1988 and named after dissident Andrei Sakharov in the then Communist-ruled Soviet Union. It is awarded annually to individuals or organizations that "have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy."

Last year's award of the 50,000 euro or 58,000 dollars prize went to Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced in China to life imprisonment for what authorities viewed as "separatism."

Prominent leader

The awarding of the 2020 Sakharov Prize to the Belarus opposition came after its exiled prominent leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya showed European legislators evidence of abuse.

Last month, she urged Parliament to help end the crackdown on those opposing Lukashenko, who ruled his nation with an iron fist for 26 years. "In the prisons, they were tortured, harassed, and raped," she said while showing photos of injured inmates.

"So I appreciate your efforts to help us with basic things: To recognize Lukashenko as illegitimate [president]. To release political prisoners. To introduce individual sanctions against all individuals involved in the election falsifications and political crackdown," Tsikhanouskaya stressed.    

Despite President Lukashenko's threat to use lethal force against protesters, massive rallies continue. They demand his resignation and new elections. Demonstrators do not believe Lukashenko won the August 9 presidential ballot with 80 percent of the vote.

While the EU's 2020 Sakharov Prize is to encourage them, Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to condemn the award. The Russian leader staunchly supports his embattled Belarusian counterpart Lukashenko.

But with calls for political changes running louder, it remains unclear whether President Lukashenko can stay in office for much longer.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
22 October 2020, 19:34