Venezuelan opposition gains Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought

The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said Venezuela has descended into a dictatorship. [Shutterstock]

The European Parliament decided on Thursday (26 October) to award the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought and human rights to the Venezuelan opposition, represented by the National Assembly, its president Julio Borges, and opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. EuroEFE reports.

The Venezuelan opposition beat the other two finalists, Guatemalan human rights activist and indigenous leader Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic and writer Dawit Isaak, imprisoned since 2001 in Eritrea.

In the candidacy bid, leaders such as Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González, considered “political prisoners” by the European Parliament, had also been proposed by the European People’s Party (EPP) and the liberals (ALDE).

MEP José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, Spain) said after hearing the decision that it is a “gesture of high symbolic value that will contribute to restoring freedom, democracy, peace and human rights in Venezuela.”

Venezuelan opposition leader: 'It is the freedom-fight of the 21st century'

Julio Borges, president of the Venezuelan parliament, is the only opposition leader who is not imprisoned among those shortlisted for this year’s edition of the Sakharov prize on freedom of thought. EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFE reports.

The PPE said the Venezuelan opposition represents “a group of courageous men and women who are not afraid, who do not surrender, who fight for their freedom and dignity, even if harassed, beaten, imprisoned, or disabled”.

MEP Beatriz Becerra (Spain, ALDE) congratulated the winners and said “this recognition will encourage Venezuelans to continue their peaceful and exemplary defence of freedom and the rule of law” against the “abuses” of the country’s head of state, Nicolás Maduro, who took over after the death of the leftist President Hugo Chavez in 2013.

“Now it is more important than ever that they remain united and not surrender to the manipulations and abuses of dictator Maduro,” Becerra said.

For her, the Sakharov is “a tool of political activism”.

“It means that the European citizens, represented in their Parliament, give their support to the cause of a free and democratic Venezuela,” Becerra added.

The award, which includes €50,000 and an honorary diploma, will be presented at a ceremony in Strasbourg on 13 December.

The Sakharov Prize has been awarded since 1989 to personalities such as South African leader Nelson Mandela, opponents of the Cuban regime like the Damas de Blanco or Guillermo Fariñas and platforms such as the Spanish Basta Ya!, among others.

Last year, the award went to Yazidi activists Nadia Murad Basi Taha and Lamiya Ayi Bashar, victims of sexual slavery perpetrated by the jihadist Islamic State group in Iraq.

Looking back on 30 years of the Sakharov Prize

Political dissidents, journalists, writers, peace and human rights activists, citizen movements and NGOs have won the European prize that bears the name of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and this year marks its thirtieth edition. EURACTIV Spain reports.