European Parliament Awards Sakharov Prize to Belarus Opposition
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other leaders of the country’s democratic opposition were awarded the European Parliament’s 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in a ceremony on December 16 in Brussels. Tsikhanouskaya received the prize from European Parliament President David Sassoli on behalf of the Coordination Council, a body set up by Belarus’s political opposition to facilitate a transfer of power in the country following a presidential election in August that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept. “An invisible wall of fear had been built around us,” Tsikhanouskaya told European lawmakers in her acceptance speech. “But this year, united, we believe that this wall of fear could be taken down, brick by brick. The dream of a better Belarus keeps us going. “Without a free Belarus, Europe is not truly free,” the opposition leader said. “Long live Europe, long live Belarus!” “Your fight is our fight,” Sassoli told the Belarusian opposition members during his introduction. Tsikhanouskaya has been in Brussels this week for talks with European Union leaders ahead of the ceremony to present the prestigious prize. European Parliament President David Sassoli and others applaud and congratulate Belarus’ opposition figures Veronika Tsepkalo (L) and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya during the Sakharov Prize ceremony, at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Dec. 16, 2020.
Sassoli has said the representatives of the Belarusian opposition were being recognized for the courage, resilience, and determination that they have shown in defense of the freedom of thought and expression. The $59,180 annual human rights prize is named after the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov and was established in 1988 to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. The award goes to several members of the Coordination Council, including Tsikhanouskaya, Maryya Kalesnikava, Veranika Tsapkala, Volha Kavalkova, and Syarhey Dyleuski; Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich; Tsikhanouskaya’s imprisoned husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski; the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, Stsyapan Putsila; Ales Byalyatski from the human rights organization Vyasna; and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich, who was a presidential candidate in the 2010 election. Protests against longtime ruler Alexander Lukashenko have been ongoing since the disputed presidential election on August 9. FILE – Belarusian opposition supporters attend a rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 22, 2020.Lukashenko, in office since 1994, was officially declared the winner with more than 80 percent of the vote — a vote which the opposition, and many Belarusians, said was rigged and which they believe Tsikhanouskaya actually won. Police have violently cracked down on the protests, with more than 27,000 detentions, according to the United Nations. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.