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Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2011

Sakharov prize laureates grateful for Europe's support to Arab Spring

Sakharov Prize 2011 ceremony   Sakharov Prize 2011 ceremony

"By awarding the Sakharov Prize to the five Arab Spring activists, the European Parliament recognises the efforts of all those who struggle for dignity, basic freedoms and political change in the Arab world", said President Buzek at the Sakharov Prize award ceremony on Wednesday in Strasbourg.

Mr Buzek pointed out that: "The historical events also remind us of our responsibilities, including the need to support an emerging, young and vibrant civil society" and he underlined the "decisive role played by women during the Arab Spring".

The winners expressed their gratitude for the prize as an important symbol of Europe's vital support during the Arab Spring uprisings. They also pointed to the human rights challenges that their countries still face in their efforts to rebuild and set up genuinely democratic regimes that respect justice and human dignity.

Only two of the laureates were able to attend the award ceremony in person:  Asmaa Mahfouz, a young blogger from Egypt, and Ahmed El-Senussi, Libya's longest-serving prisoner of conscience.  Parliament observed a minute's silence in memory of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in protest at the Tunisian authorities' repression sparked widespread protests and who was awarded the prize posthumously, and of all those who lost their lives in the uprisings.

In her acceptance speech, Asmaa Mahfouz said: "This reward pays hommage to all those people in Egypt who have been much more courageous than me and actually sacrificed their lives on the streets. I would like to tell you how proud I am for all the martyrs of Arab revolution. We will not betray them, we will follow the road."

Ahmed El-Senussi pointed to the importance of reconciliation: "We need to rebuild our country, showing tolerance even towards those who committed crimes, who violated human dignity." He thanked Libya's European neighbours, the first to go to Libya's aid, for their "unambiguous diplomatic and military support".

The Syrian cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, who is exiled in Kuwait, send a video message in which he voiced his gratitude for the prize and also his grief and sorrow at the number of victims in his home country Syria which "increases with every minute".

Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, who is in hiding, sent a letter saying: "I would like to thank the European Parliament and everyone who has empathized with the uprising of our people, and who has supported it in whatsoever way, for the sake of a tomorrow free of repression, prisons, and blood-spilling. For all brave people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond. For those who got their freedom, and those who are still struggling for it."

2011 Sakharov prize laureates

Ms Asmaa Mahfouz

Asmaa Mahfouz is a young Egyptian blogger whose Youtube videos brought thousands of people onto the streets to protest against the repressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Ahmed El-Senussi

Ahmed El-Senussi was Libya's longest-serving prisoner of conscience, detained for 31 years following an attempted coup against the former dictator Gaddafi.

Mr Mohamed Bouazizi

Mohammed Bouazizi was a young street salesman whose self-immolation sparked widespread protests within hours that finally led to the fall of the Tunisian regime.

Mr Ali Ferzat

Ali Ferzat is a Syrian cartoonist known for his caricatures ridiculing Arab dictators. He fled Syria after he was attacked in August and had both his hands broken.

Mrs Razan Zaitouneh

Razan Zaitouneh is a human rights lawyer from Syria who went into hiding after being accused by the government of being a foreign agent because of her daily reports on her website ShRIL and to foreign media of the atrocities against civilians in Syria.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 and has become a well known symbol of the fight for human rights and democracy.