By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela’s democratic opposition and political prisoners on Thursday. This is Europe’s most prestigious human rights award.
Antonion Tajani, the Parliament’s president, made the announcement before a plenary session in Strasbourg, France. The prize was given as a reward to Venezuelan students and politicians for their courage to fight a repressive government and demand freedom. Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE liberal group remarks that “this award supports the fight of democratic forces for a democratic Venezuela,” and invites the international community to join their fight.
Venezuela has suffered politically and economically for several years. As a result of dropped energy prices, the oil-producing nation took a severe economic hit. Poverty is widespread and thousands have left the country as refugees. Accordingly, President Maduro’s oppressive government has drawn much of the blame. It consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and hundreds of leaders and supporters have felt the wrath of Maduro’s government. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens have been killed in this past year. Officials report that more than 120 people were killed when anti-government street demonstrations turned violent.
As a result of Maduro’s government, Venezuela’s democracy is in danger. There is currently a standoff between the National Assembly, Venezuela’s only democratically elected Parliament, and the constituent assembly, made up exclusively of government supporters. President Maduro has tried to close the National Assembly to limit the opposition’s power and influence. His goal is to create a superseding, all-powerful constitutional assembly that will be under his party’s control. The opposition’s effort to defend Venezuela’s democracy is the primary reason for their reward.
Mr. Tajani remarked, “we have decided to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition, recalling our total support for the National Assembly of Venezuela – a democratically-elected parliament – the only parliament democratically elected.”
The “democratic opposition in Venezuela” receives the award as the official laureate. This group is represented by the country’s National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, as well as political prisoners. The list of political prisoners is maintained by a human rights organization, Foro Penal. Mr. Borges will be invited to receive the prize on behalf of the opposition. The award comes with 50,000 euros (about $59,000) at a ceremony in Strasbourg this year.
The opposition follows last year’s winners, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Ajo Bashar, young Yazidi women who escaped captivity and sexual slavery under the Islamic State. The other finalists for this year included an activist in Guatemala who fights for the rights of indigenous peoples and a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been arbitrarily detained by Eritrean authorities since 2001.
The prize has been awarded every year since 1988 and is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and political dissident.
For more information, please see: