Saryusz-Wolski: Sakharov wouldn’t give a prize to Pussy Riot

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Prison sentences for members of the Pussy Riot punk band are unacceptable, but so was their performance in a Moscow cathedral, says MEP Jacek Sayusz-Wolski, who advocates that the European Parliament's 2012 Sakharov Prize be given to a Belarussian opposition activist. 

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.

But Saryusz-Wolski (European People's Party, Poland), who nominated Belarussian activist Ales Bialiatski for the annual human rights award, says he cannot even compare the two nominations.

The Sakharov Prize, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in 1988 by the European Parliament. The last recipients were the Russian civil rights society Memorial in 2009, the Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas in 2010, and representatives of the Arab people in recognition of their role in the Arab spring, for 2011.

Saryusz-Wolski, who has invested personal energy in putting the Sakharov Prize on par with the Nobel Peace Prize, argues that Sakharov himself would have awarded the prize to Bialiatski because the Belarussian has the same type of civic courage to fight for freedom of thought and expression.

Asked if Sakharov would have given the prize to Pussy Riot, he said: “I don’t think so. I consider the verdict, the punishment of Pussy Riot scandalous and unacceptable. But I can say the same about their behaviour. The places like a church are not the places to articulate politically motivated views … I wouldn’t even compare Bialiatski with Pussy Riot.”

Saryusz-Wolski argued that the Sakharov Prize should be attributed to personalities with a lifelong engagement to human rights and freedom.

The Polish MEP, who was a youth activist in the anti-communist trade union Solidarno??, said that he nominated Bialiatski also because Belarus is “a laboratory of oppression and dictatorship” on European territory. He expressed optimism that he would gain large cross-party vote in favour of awarding Bialiatski  the prize.

Asked if it was unfair to compare Belarus to Russia in terms of democracy, he answered: “Yes, one has to say with all the reservations about the state of human rights and democracy in Russia, that it’s better than Belarus.”

The political groups and individual MEPs will make presentations of their 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.

Read a full interview with Saryusz-Wolski  here.

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