Andrei Sakharov ©Ali Ferzat 2016        
Drawing of Andrei Sakharov by Ali Ferzat, 2011 Sakharov Laureate ©Ali Ferzat 2016 

Can Dündar and fellow defenders of freedom of thought and expression in Turkey, the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzemilev, the Yazidi survivors and public advocates Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar as well as Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti are this year's nominees for the Sakharov Prize. MEPs formally presented them at a meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee on Thursday 6 October. The laureate will be announced on 27 October.

The European Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize every year to honour exceptional individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The nominees for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are:


Can Dündar


Can Dündarn the former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, was arrested last November after his newspaper reported on Turkey’s intelligence service smuggling arms to rebels in Syria. He was later sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for "revealing state secrets", survived an assassination attempt and now lives in exile. He w nominated by Greens/EFA, EFDD and GUE/NGL.


Marie-Christine Vergiat, a French member of the GUE/NGL group, called Dündar “a symbol on the attacks on press freedom in Turkey”. Ska Keller, a German member of the Greens/EFA group, referred to him as  "a living symbol of freedom of thought”. Italian EFDD member Fabio Massimo Castaldo called attention to other journalists that had also been arrested: “By awarding the prize to Dundar we are also extending the prize to all those who show similar courage."


Mustafa Dzhemilev


Mustafa Dzhemilev, former chair of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars People (Tatar parliament), a former Soviet dissident and a Ukrainian MP, has been standing up for human and minority rights for more than half a century. He was six months old when he and his family were deported to central Asia along with all other Crimean Tatars and was only able to come back 45 years later. Now, after Russia annexed Crimea, the human rights activist is again barred from entering the peninsula. He was nominated by EPP and ECR.


Polish EPP member Jacek Saryusz-Wolski stressed Dzhemilev's “relentless struggle for freedom and human rights”. Estonian EPP member Tunne Kelam called Dzhemilev "a man who stands up not only for the rights of Crimean Tatars but also for the rights of Ukrainians”. Charles Tannock, a UK member of the ECR group, said that Dzhemilev was a Soviet dissident just like Sakharov and “has a live long record of being a fighter against tyranny and communist oppression”.


Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar


Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar. are advocates for the Yazidi community and for women surviving sexual enslavement by Islamic State. They are both from Kocho, one of the villages near Sinjar, Iraq, which was taken over  by Islamic State in the summer of 2014, and are among the thousands of Yazidi girls and women abducted by Islamic State militants and forced into sex slavery. Murad is also a promoter for recognition of the Yazidi genocide. Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar were nominated by S&D and ALDE.


“These are two women who are very admirable, young and courageous and they symbolise the best of Europe's and the world's spirit,” said Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, an ALDE member from Spain. Austrian S&D member Josef Weidenholzer said their nomination would be a “tribute to women and girls who are the first victims in case of conflict and to all religious minorities which are victims of genocide”. 


Ilham Tohti


Ilham Tohti, a peaceful advocate of China's Uyghur minority, is serving a life sentence in prison. He was convicted on charges of separatism for co-founding the website Uyghur Online, designed to promote understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. He was nominated by MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk, a Bulgarian member of the ALDE group, and 42 other MEPs.


Kyuchyuk called Tohti a “free thinker who believes in human rights, the rule of law,peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups and a democratic future for China”.


Next steps


The members of the foreign affairs and the development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists on 11 October.


The Conference of Presidents, made up of the Parliament President and the political group leaders, will announce the winner(s) of the 2016 Sakharov Prize on 27 October.


The Sakharov Prize


The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year the prize was awarded to Raif Badawi.


Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by political groups or by at least 40 MEPs. Based on the nominations, the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists. After that the Conference of Presidents, made up of the EP President and the leaders of the political groups, select the winner.

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