Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela and the Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov are the three finalists for this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, after a vote during a meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee. The laureate will be decided by Parliament’s president and political group leaders on 29 October and the award ceremony will be held in Strasbourg on 16 December.
The finalists for the 2015 Sakharov Prize are:
Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian blogger and author of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested in 2012 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a hefty fine for insulting Islamic values on his website. He was administered the first set of 50 lashes in January 2015, the remainder postponed following international protests. Badawi was originally nominated by S&D, ECR and Greens/EFA.
During the formal presentation of the nominees at the end of September, Italian S&D member Pier Antonio Panzeri said: “I can’t imagine today that someone here can be bound in public and be lashed just for being brave and expressing their own opinion. By nominating Raif Badawi we want to honour all of those who are fighting for freedom of expression in the world.“
Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga said: “The ECR group supports the candidacy.”
Hungarian Greens/EFA member Tamás Meszerics said that as a blogger in one of the most repressive systems in the world, Badawi was a symbol for the fight for freedom of speech: “Europe cannot stay silence anymore when individuals face torture or death merely for expressing their ideas in Saudi Arabia.”
The democratic opposition in Venezuela Venezuela embodied by the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática and political prisoners
The Mesa de la Unidad democrática was nominated by EPP and MEPs Fernando Maura Barandiarán and Dita Charanzová. It is an election coalition formed in 2008 to unify the opposition to president Hugo Chávez’s political party. Politicians students and opposition leaders have been detained or are under house arrest for exercising their right to freedom.
Spanish EPP member Luis de Grandes Pascual said on behalf of EPP: “While the government [in Venezuela] was democratically elected, at the moment it is exercising a totalitarian control on the population. This collective group is part of the democratic opposition in Venezuela; they are struggling and fighting to exercise their rights.”
Spanish ALDE member Fernando Maura Barandiarán said that awarding the Sakharov Prize to the democratic opposition would be a way of supporting the movement and providing it with some protection.
Boris Nemtsov was a Russian physicist, former deputy prime minister and opposition politician who was assassinated in Moscow in February 2015. He was originally nominated by ALDE. Estonian
ALDE member Urmas Paet said: Nemtsov was “a leading personality of the Russian civil society who worked for a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Russia. (…) As an opposition leader and civil society activist he worked to expose corruption and abuse of political power in Russia. (…) And he paid for it with his life.”
The Sakharov Prize
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. Last year the prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege.
Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by political groups or by at least 40 MEPs. Based on the nominations, the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists. After that the Conference of Presidents, made up of the EP President and the leaders of the political groups, select the winner.