Pussy Riot shortlisted for Sakharov Prize

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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 three candidates shortlisted for the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. 

The other finalists named yesterday (9 October) for the European Parliament prize are Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarussian opposition figure; and Iranians Nasrin Sotoudeh, an imprisoned lawyer and human rights advocate, and Jafar Panahi, a film director.

The laureate will be announced on 26 October following a decision of the Conference of Presidents. The winner will receive €50,000 and be invited to attend the award ceremony on 12 December in Strasbourg.

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

The three finalists were chosen from five nominations made by political groups or groups of more than 40 MEPs.

MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP, Poland), who nominated Bialiatski along with 82 other MEPs, said he was an outstanding figure, “very close to the message of Sakharov himself”.

Who has the right to speak on behalf of Sakharov?

In a recent interview to EURACTIV, Saryusz-Wolski argued that Sakharov, who died in December 1989, wouldn’t give the prize to Pussy Riot.

“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 said.

But this particular statement appears to have inspired MEP Werner Schulz (Greens/EFA, Germany), to plead the contrary:

"Andrei Sakharov himself would be extremely pleased to see the recognition of these creative and courageous young women … who have articulated protest against an autocratic regime and patriarchal state power that they managed to embarrass," he said during the presentation yesterday. The Pussy Riot trio were nominated by Schulz and 45 other MEPs.

Putin gives instructions

The three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 – are appearing in an appelate hearing today. But a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, widely quoted by the international press, leaves little hope for their release.

"It was right that they were arrested, and the court's decision was right," Putin told a journalist at NTV, a state-run television channel, during an hour-long documentary aired in honour of his 60th birthday on Sunday.

The two “European” nominations appeared to eclipse the Iranian candidates.

"It is high time that Sakharov prize went to Iranians. Ms Sotoudeh is an excellent candidate; a human rights lawyer who has defended juveniles, women and prisoners of conscience, but is now in prison herself," she argued.

Sotoudeh is an imprisoned Iranian lawyer who has represented imprisoned Iranian opposition activists following the disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Panahi won the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Schaake said his films “bear witness to day-to-day reality in Iran; for us he embodies the fight against official repression and fight for freedom ad human rights."

Panahi’s prize-winning movie, “This is not a film”, was smuggled to Cannes uploaded in an USB key hidden in a cake.

The two Iranian candidates are nominated by the Social-Democrat group, the Liberal-Democrat group, the Greens/European Free Alliance group and by MEPs José Ignacio Salafranca, Elmar Brok and 11 other MEPs.

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.

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