The Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) groups in the European Parliament have decided to nominate American whistleblower Edward Snowden for the human rights “Sakharov Prize” awarded annually by the Strasbourg-based EU assembly.
To enter the official candidate list, nominees for the prize need to be backed by at least 40 MEPs or by one political group. The Parliament's conference of presidents will decide on the 2013 winner in October.
Last May, 30-year old Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the US National Security Agency (NSA), leaked details to the Guardian newspaper about the US government’s mass surveillance programs of Europe’s internet servers, institutions and companies, prompting angry reactions across the European Union’s member states.
Forced to flee the United States after his revelations, Snowden could not find shelter in Europe, where all countries refused to grant him asylum status. After weeks spent at Moscow's airport, Snowden finally received temporary asylum in Russia, and his exact location is kept secret for security reasons.
“Edward Snowden has risked his freedom to help us protect ours and he deserves to be honoured for shedding light on the systematic infringements of civil liberties by US and European secret services," says the Greens/EFA in a statement.
"Instead of being given asylum in the EU, he has been abandoned by cowardly European governments. We hope our nomination will receive wide support in the European Parliament and that this can serve as a symbol of rejection of this gross, massive and illegal intrusion into the privacy of citizens worldwide", the Greens added.
The Greens/EFA and the GUE/NGL Group’s suggestion of granting Snowden the prestigious European human rights award was already put forward at the end of August by Swedish Sociology professor, Stefan Svallfors.
In an opinion piece for Swedish media, and published on EurActiv.com, the professor argued that “by exposing this system [US mass surveillance program] Snowden made it possible for us to say No – this is not a development and a society we want, we protect our civil rights and freedoms when they are threatened (…) We must demand more of ourselves and our elected officials than that. We could start by giving Edward Snowden the prize whose name symbolises a man who refused to bow to oppression and thereby actually changed history.”
>> Read the opinion piece by Stefan Svallfors: Edward Snowden deserves the Sakharov Prize
On Wednesday (11 September), the liberal and democrat ALDE Group announced Pakistani women's rights activist Malala Yousafzai as their nomination for the "Sakharov Prize" for freedom of thought in a statement.
Yousafzai, a 16-year old Pakistani school pupil and education activist, is an important voice in the debate on women's rights and education rights. She has spoken out about women's oppression in several international media and kept a diary about her life under Taliban rule on a personal blog.
Last October, she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan and transferred to the UK for treatment.
MEP Graham Watson of the ALDE group said in the statement: "In their attempt to silence [Malala's] voice, her oppressors have amplified it. If she wins the Sakharov prize, it will not just be for her but for the millions of other girls worldwide [...] who, like her, have been denied their universal right to education."
Both he European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group and the European People's Party (EPP) group today (12 September) confirmed they too back the plea to award Malala Yousafzai the 2013 Sakharov Prize. Both groups confirmed the Pakistani girl as their nomination.
"Awarding the prize to Malala would send a powerful signal about women's rights and education rights in the region and around the world," human rights spokesman for the ECR group Charles Tannock said in a statement.
EPP foreign affairs spokesperson José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra added that "she has brought the issue of universal education to greater global attention. Our challenge is to keep up the momentum and to make a real change.”
Andrei Sakharov, who gave his name to the “European Prize for Freedom of Thought” was a Soviet dissident and physicist, who “sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race”. He defended political prisoners and victims of political trials. Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, but he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect it.
The European Parliament set up the Sakharov Prize in 1988 “to honour individuals or organisations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Prominent figures have received the European award in the past years, such as Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990, Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan in 2003, or the Arab Spring activists in 2011.