The seven final nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought were presented on 16 September in Brussels.
As EurActiv wrote last week, the former CIA and NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, was nominated by the Greens and the United Left political groups in Parliament.
But it was the 16-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, shot in the neck by Taliban forces for advocating girls' education, who received the broadest support from Parliament. The three largest political groups – the Liberal ALDE group, the centre-right European People's Party and centre-left Socialists & Democrats – as well as the European Conservatives and Reformists group, all backed the Pakistani girl's nomination.
Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and was receiving treatment in Britain, recently opened the Library of Birmingham, saying: "Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism".
"I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls."
Other finalists include Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega, two Ethiopian journalists, who were sentenced for terrorism after writing critical pieces about their government.
The Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky also joined the list of nominees for the prestigious European human rights award. He was sentenced in 2005 for fraud after his company, Yukos, collapsed and had its shares frozen by Vladimir Putin’s government. His sentence has been prolonged until 2017 and his trial is widely believed to be politically motivated. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
Belarusian activist Ales Bialatski has been nominated a second time for the prize, along with Eduard Lobau and Mykola Statkevich, who “represent all Belarusian political prisoners” this year. They were all arrested in 2010 following the re-election of President Lukashenko for having protested the electoral results, and for having called the elections fraudulent. Bialatski was also nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize.
MEPs have also nominated the “Standing Man” protesters from Turkey this year. This peaceful form of resistance during the Gezi protests in Istanbul, was first used by Erdem Gündüz, a 34-year old dancer, who stood silently for hours, with his hands in his pockets. It wasn’t long before hundreds of others joined him to protest police brutality in the same peaceful way this summer.
Finally, a project and not a person will also run for the Sakharov Prize. The “CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery" is a global campaign against human trafficking and child labour, “highlighting the suffering of victims from Mauritania to India to the Philippines”.
Famous past winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Last year, the prestigious award was given to Iranian dissidents, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panah.
“It’s a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own”, Parliament President Martin Schulz said last year.