Nominations for the Sakharov Prize 2017

Find out the nominees are for this year’s Sakharov Prize and why they were nominated in our article. The laureate will be announced on 26 October.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The nominees for this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are:

Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen), a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 under the country´s blasphemy law. Bibi is on a death row for almost seven years and her appeal to the supreme court has been postponed to an undetermined date. She was nominated by ECR.

“Her behaviour and dignity in prison all these years is the best proof of her being able to present the dignity of a defender of human rights in the face of the worse fate,” said Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga. “We look forward to a final sentence from the supreme court eventually acquitting her.”

Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, a human rights defender from Guatemala. She is a member from the Council of Ki’che’ Peoples (CPK), an organisation that fights to protect natural resources and human rights from the expansion of mining, logging, hydroelectric and agro-industry sectors in the territory and has been subject to threats. She was nominated by Greens/EFA.

Molly Scott-Cato, a UK member of the Greens/EFA group, recalled the work of the former teacher and her organisation in defending indigenous land and supporting marginalized communities. “She has defended life through her work, words and through her action,” she said. Florent Marcellesi, a Spanish member of the Greens/EFA group, stressed the difficult situation facing environmental activists: “According to Global Witness, three environmental defenders were killed every week in 2015.”

Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-chairs of the pro-kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey arrested in November 2016 on terrorism charges after their parliamentary immunity was lifted. They were nominated by GUE/NGL.

“They are the symbols of the repression happening today in Turkey, a repression that has affected close to 150,000 officials including many magistrates,” said Marie-Christine Vergiat. The French member of the GUE/NGL group reminded that the Kurds Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag fight for the rights of minorities in Turkey and that their parliamentary immunity was lifted in May 2016, months before the attempted coup.

Democratic Opposition in Venezuela: National Assembly (Julio Borges) and all political prisoners as listed by Foro Penal Venezolano represented by Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González. The situation in Venezuela has been seriously deteriorating as regards democracy, human rights and socio-economy, in a climate of growing political and social instability. Nominated by EPP and ALDE. Political prisoners in Venezuela as as well as the democratic opposition in Venezuela were also shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize in 2015.

“In Venezuela, a courageous group of students and politicians are fighting for their freedom day in and day out,” said Jose Ignacio Salafranca, a Spanish member of the EPP group. Awarding this prize to the Democratic Opposition of Venezuela would “be an opportunity to prove that we are committed to democracy and human rights in the Latin America,” added Beatriz Becerra,a Spanish member of the ALDE group, who pointed out that at least 20 of the political prisoners are European.

Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer, who was arrested in 2001 by the Eritrean authorities during a political crackdown. He has been imprisoned without a trial since and was last seen in 2005. Isaak was Sakharov finalist in 2009. He was nominated by S&D as well as by Wikström and 46 other MEPs.

Spanish S&D member Elena Valenciano said Isaak was arrested, along with other 20 other journalists, for calling for democratic reforms and has now spent “16 years and eight days of prison without any charges, without a trial, without legal counsel, without contact with his family”. Swedish ALDE member Cecilia Wikström added: “He showed courage by speaking truth also to the dictatorship in his country, fighting against injustice, defending human rights, freedom of thought and expression (…) Make sure his struggle is not forgotten.”

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a Burundian human rights activist and founder of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH). He was detained in 2014, escaped an assassination attempt in 2015 and is now living in Belgium. He was nominated by EFDD.

“He stood up and fought for the rights of those who are imprisoned like he once was under trumped-up charges and without any judicial process,” said Italian EFDD member Fabio Castaldo. “He had the courage to denounce the serious violation of human rights. To protect his country and his people, he risked everything.”

Next steps 

  • 10 October: the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists  
  • 26 October: the Parliament President and the political group leaders announce the laureate(s) 
  • 13 December: award ceremony takes place at the Parliament in Strasbourg 

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