Sakharov Prize nominees include NGOs in the Mediterranean

Crew members of the search and rescue vessel 'Aquarius' of NGO 'SOS Mediterranee' wave from the ship's bow as the vessel arrives in the port of Marseille, France, 29 June 2018. [Guillaune Horcajuelo/EPA/EFE]

The nominees for the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought have been announced on Thursday (27 September), including Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film director imprisoned in Russia and NGOs saving lives of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Since 1988, THE European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize to individuals and organisations that defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. The foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee announced the nominees for 2018 on 27 September. They are:

Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, convicted to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts” against the Russian “de facto” rule in Crimea. Amnesty International has described the court process as “an unfair trial before a military court”. He has become a symbol for the approximately 70 Ukrainian citizens illegally arrested and convicted to long prison sentences by the Russian occupation forces in the Crimean peninsula. He has been on hunger strike since May 2018. Sentsov has been nominated by EPP.

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NGOs protecting human rights and saving migrant lives across the Mediterranean SeaThe NGOs are: Boat Refugee Foundation, Jugend Rettet, Lifeline Rescue Boat, Médecins Sans Frontières International, MOAS, Proactiva Open Arms, PROEM-AID, Save the Children, Sea Eye, Sea Watch, and SOS Mediterranée.

The responsibility of NGOs for helping bring more refugees has been questioned, and since more recently the new Italian government has been waging a war against them.

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The NGOs have been nominated by S&D and the Greens/EFA.

Seyran Ateş, a German lawyer of Turkish origin, fighting against political and religious extremism and the oppression of women. She was behind the establishment of the Ibn Rushd Goethe Mosque in Berlin, where men and women can pray together and has received numerous death threats and has to have round the clock protection. She was nominated by ECR, Hans-Olaf Henkel and 40 other MEPs for her “commitment to the protection of human rights and her devotion to a modern and open Islam”.

Caesar is the code name of a former Syrian military photographer who smuggled more than 55,000 pictures out of Syria exposing the war atrocities. Their authenticity is confirmed by the Human Rights Watch. Caesar’s photographs will play a vital role in building criminal and civil cases against those responsible for the crimes documented. Nominated by ALDE.

Nasser Zefzafi is the leader of Hirak, a mass protest movement in the Rif region, Morocco, fighting corruption, oppression and abuse of power. He was arrested in May 2017 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for “conspiracy against the security of the state”. On August 2018, King Mohammed VI pardoned 188 Hirak activists, but Zefzafi was not among them. At the end of August he went on hunger strike to denounce his conditions of detention. Nominated by GUE, Kati Piri, Judith Sargentini, Marie-Christine Vergiat and 39 other MEPs for his fight “against oppression and abuse of power”.

Dewayne Johnson is a former groundskeeper from the US who has just won a landmark case against Monsanto. He was the first person to take Monsanto to trial over allegations that the chemicals sold by the company under the herbicide brand Roundup cause cancer. At the end of the process Dewayne had just months to live, yet he took the stand and described his pain and suffering. Nominated by EFDD as an inspiration “for those afraid to go to court and defend their rights”.

AfriForum is an NGO that aims to protect the rights of minorities in South Africa, with a specific focus on the rights of Afrikaners. It focuses on raising national and international awareness about farm attacks, murders and the expropriation of farm land without compensation, which threatens property rights, food supply and food security. Nominated by ENF.

Mary Wagner is a Canadian activist who has been arrested on multiple occasions and accused of “disturbing the business” of an abortion clinic in Toronto. She remained in prison for not complying with a probation order to stay away from abortion clinics. She was nominated by Marek Jurek and 41 other MEPs for her work “safeguarding the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves”.

On 9 October the foreign affairs and development committees will vote on a shortlist of three finalists, on 25 October the Parliament’s political leaders will announce the winner, and on 12 December the Sakharov Prize award ceremony will take place in Strasbourg.

The 2017 Sakharov Prize was awarded to the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela.

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