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28/07/2016

Pussy Riot among candidates for Sakharov prize

Europe's East

Pussy Riot among candidates for Sakharov prize

Pussy Riot_0.jpg

Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose three female musicians were sentenced to two years in prison after staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral, are among the candidates for the European Parliament’s annual Sakharov Prize, EurActiv has learned.

Pussy Riot was nominated by German MEP Werner Schulz (Greens/EFA) and gathered the signatures of 45 other MEPs. Candidates for the prize can be nominated either by a political group or by a minimum of 40 MEPs.

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted on 17 August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in which they called on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin. Their sentence caused widespread indignation and condemnation from both the European Union and United States.

Pussy Riot has been publicly backed by dozens of prominent musicians, including Paul McCartney, Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Björk, Bryan Adams, Sting and Yoko Ono.

Other nominees

Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarussian opposition activist; Joseph Francis, an activist assisting victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy law; three jailed opposition representatives in Rwanda; and two Iranian intellectuals have also been nominated by MEPs as candidates for the Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, intended to honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.

The political groups and individual MEPs who nominated the candidates will make presentations of the candidates on 25 September in Brussels. The award ceremony takes place in Strasbourg around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.

Among the nominees, the front-runner appears to be Ales Bialiatski, a freedom fighter and human rights defender currently imprisoned by the Belarussian regime. He was nominated by Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (European People's Party), who gathered the signatures of other 82 MEPs. The European Parliament has already expressed its support for Bialiatski in a resolution of 15 September 2011. Bialiatski has been also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Francis, the founder and director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement which defends victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was nominated by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. Accusations of blasphemy often result in harassment, threats and attacks. Several prominent politicians have been assassinated for their opposition to blasphemy law.

Three imprisoned Rwandan opposition representatives, who have tried to put an end to the cycle of violence by fostering dialogue and reconciliation, were nominated by Spanish MEPs Willy Meyer (Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left),  Rosa Estaràs (EPP), María Muñiz (Socialists and Democrats),  Ana Miranda (Green/EFA group), and 37 other MEPs. The activists are Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Déogratias Mushayidi and Bernard Ntaganda.

The Iranians are Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights advocate who has represented imprisoned opposition activists and politicians following the disputed June 2009 presidential elections, as well as juvenile offenders facing the death sentence. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and has been imprisoned in solitary confinement.

The other nominee is Jafar Panahi, a Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor. He first achieved international recognition with his feature film debut "The White Balloon" in 1995, which won the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

They were nominated by Spanish MEP José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP), German MEP Elmar Brok (EPP) and 11 others.

Background

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. The prize was set up in 1988 to honour individuals or organisations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Parliament awards the human rights prize, endowed with €50,000, at a formal sitting held in Strasbourg on or around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.

The Soviet physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989) was seen as a subversive dissident. In 1970, he founded a committee to defend human rights and victims of political trials. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts.

See list of Sakharov prize winners

Timeline

  • 25 Sept.: Presentation of the candidates by those who nominated them
  • 9 Oct.: Vote to determine this year's winner of the Sakharov Prize
  • December: Awards ceremony

Further Reading