President. − Dear colleagues, dear Sakharov laureates, our solemn sitting is now open. Today is a very special occasion, as 2011 will go down in history as the year of the Arab Spring. I am honoured to award the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2011 to five courageous women and men who represent the Arab Spring. The prize goes to:
Ms Asmaa Mahfouz, from Egypt,
Mr Ahmed al-Sanusi, from Libya,
Ms Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria,
Mr Ali Farzat, also from Syria,
and the late Mr Mohamed Bouazizi, from Tunisia.
Dear friends, human rights are universal. We all value human dignity, freedom of thought and expression, as well as responsible and accountable government, and we are all entitled to it. 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.
Looking back at this year’s events following the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, we witnessed the removal of a dictator, and recently free elections. To honour the courage of the Tunisian people we award the Sakharov Prize to the late Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street salesman. He set himself on fire after his authorities repeatedly denied him the most basic elements of a life of dignity. Since then history has swept across North Africa and the Arab World, and many lost their lives for basic freedoms and human dignity.
In many places the struggle is ongoing as we speak. In Syria protestors’ demands are met by bullets, tear gas, tanks, arbitrary detention and torture. The latest number of deaths reported exceed 5 000, including 300 children. In order to honour and remember Mr Bouazizi and all those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and dignity in the Arab World, I would like to ask all of us to observe a minute’s silence.
(The House rose and observed a minute’s silence)
This historical events also remind us of our responsibilities, including the need to support an emerging young and vibrant civil society. Among our prize winners we have two young ladies, representatives of a new generation, Asmaa Mahfouz, from Egypt and Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria. They deserve not only our admiration and respect, but better prospects for their future. Their nomination represents a tribute to the decisive role played by women during the Arab Spring.
I hope that their courageous involvement is a sign that geopolitical changes will also bring about improvement in women’s rights in this region.
Today we have the honour to welcome in our Chamber a young and remarkable woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, who mobilised Egyptians to go out to Tahrir Square and demand their rights. She is a shining example and a symbol of how an individual can make a difference, leading by inspiration and by the strongest possible conviction of human rights, despite the risks of intimidation by the authorities. Ms Mahfouz, I would like to invite you to deliver a speech to us from the podium below.
Asmaa Mahfouz. − I would like to thank the President and I would like to thank everybody here today for inviting me here and for awarding me this prize, which is in honour of the Arab Spring and the revolution in Egypt and which has opened up a new relationship between the Arab world and Europe. We need this new dimension, this new approach.
After the Arab Spring, and based on the interest that is now focused on the Arab world, I think that we can be proud of the Arab people because they are very much in favour of universal values of respect for human dignity. This reward pays homage to the heroes of the revolution. This is a prize that goes out to all young Egyptians, people that have sacrificed their lives. They have been more courageous than I have. They have sacrificed their lives in the name of liberty for everybody.
The Egyptian revolution led to the overthrow of the regime. Many European countries and the USA supported the Mubarak regime before that overthrow but still this was achieved and the regime has now changed. The regime now is based on several people not just a single person and we want to ensure that we build on this success and build on a pacifist approach with no violence. And we want to ensure that no members of the former regime enjoy any support whatsoever. There are young people who are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the objectives of the revolution and for the birth of a civilised country based on human rights for all.
Each time there is an infringement or an attack on a human life we need speedy intervention and we should not be waiting any longer. People were killed. Why did we wait so long before we took action? One occasion is enough to see that there has been a violation of human rights. This finally led to the Arab world taking a place of priority in the world.
I would like to tell you about how proud I am of all the martyrs of the Arab revolution. We will not betray them; we will continue along the road that they have entered into and we want to make sure that this dream is fulfilled.
(The House accorded the speaker a standing ovation)
President. − Ms Mahfouz, thank you for your encouraging speech. The second young laureate I mentioned, also a lady. Sakharov laureate Razan Zaitouneh is forced to live in hiding. She is not with us today but she continues to denounce on her blog human rights violations committed by the Syrian forces. We commend her exceptional courage. She sent a very moving written message to all of us, a message of hope towards a free, democratic and pluralist Syria. This message was circulated to all of you this morning.
But we have another laureate with us. We are honoured to have Mr Ahmed al-Sanusi with us today. He is one of those remarkable individuals who attempted to bring down a dictator a long time ago and paid a very high price for it. He is the longest-serving prisoner of conscience in Libya, having spent 31 years in prison. Mr al-Sanusi is now working with the National Transitional Council and is in charge of the political prisoners. My wish to him is that the suffering he had to endure will be rewarded by national reconciliation in Libya. Mr al-Sanusi’s integrity, wisdom and experience should be greatly valued in this process.
Mr al-Sanusi, our dear guest, I would like to invite you to take the floor at the podium and to give your speech to us.
Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi. − Mr President of the European Parliament, honourable Members of the Parliament, guests, let me begin by giving you my warmest greetings and expressing my thanks and gratitude to you for having chosen me as a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. This prize has huge symbolic and moral value. It is something that the people of Libya appreciate. They have congratulated me on having been awarded the prize.
It also provides further stimulus for the consolidation of the values we have always been in favour of, that is to say the creation of a democratic, constitutional state based upon the equality of all, a state where women enjoy the freedom to vote and stand in elections, to make their voices heard.
Women have made huge sacrifices in Libya. Women have laid down their lives. They have seen their nearest and dearest, their children die, to try to get rid of this totalitarian regime which we suffered from for more than 42 years – in prisons, with constant humiliation, constant violations of our human dignity. It was these years and years of dictatorship that eventually led young people to lay down their lives, to shed their blood, even though they had no weapons. The only weapon that they had was their commitment, their conviction. That is what won out in the end, thanks to the support from the international community and this European Parliament. I would just like to express my gratitude to you for that.
Now we need to rebuild our country, to do so in a tolerant fashion, showing tolerance even to those who committed crimes, who targeted our sons, our brothers, those who destroyed houses, who violated human dignity. I am sure that you saw these things on television, all the crimes that were committed in Libya. Again we are grateful for the unambiguous economic, diplomatic and military support that Europe provided.
As I said, we had no weapons and the dictator tried to keep us down by force thanks to the links he had forged with certain countries, countries that supported him for various reasons – economic reasons sometimes, and other reasons. But all of these countries realised that ultimately the people would win. The people always remain. That is why we would like to thank Europe for the position that it adopted and thank of course the whole of the international community.
But we have to say that our European neighbours – our closest neighbours – were the first to support the Libyan people, despite their lack of weapons. Thanks to that support we managed to get rid of this totalitarian regime that had been in place for 42 years. I myself of course was a prisoner of conscience under Gaddafi. I was in prison for 31 years, including nine years in solitary confinement. I was tortured, I was denied health care, but I did not lose hope. During all of those years I did not abandon my human dignity.
In Libya now we want to be treated on the same footing as everybody else; we do not want to be described as a nation of terrorists or people who have no right to life. We love life: our own lives and the lives of others as well. And we hope that the Sakharov Prize will allow us to make progress and allow other states still suffering from dictatorships to make progress too. Please support us, and support us in trying to achieve those goals. We have a long way to go before our goals can be met but, thanks to patience, thanks to persistence, I am sure that we will achieve them. The first step is to set up a parliament and a constitution voted by the people. Thank you once again for listening to me.
(The House accorded the speaker a standing ovation)
President. − Dear colleagues, the Sakharov Prize is awarded for freedom of thought and this can take many forms. Sometimes a painting speaks more than a thousand words. This is demonstrated by the drawings and cartoons of Mr Ali Farzat. His weapon is the pen. Through his creativity and courage, his cartoons have pushed the boundaries of freedom of expression in Syria and the entire Arab world. His political cartoons reflect his ideals.
Ali Farzat was beaten up by security forces in August. Both his hands were broken, but he sent us a video message, being unable to come to the European Parliament. I would like to invite you to watch his video message.
(The video message was played)
(The House accorded the speaker a standing ovation)
Ali Farzat, lauréat du Prix Sakharov (vidéo). − Soyez les bienvenus, mes très chers amis! J'aurais tant souhaité être avec vous aujourd'hui pour recevoir ce prestigieux Prix Sakharov pour la liberté de l'esprit et vous remercier de cet immense honneur que vous me faites. Des circonstances personnelles ne me permettent pas d'être là mais quoi qu'il en soit mes meilleurs sentiments et mon cœur sont avec vous tous.
Autant je suis heureux de recevoir ce prix prestigieux et d'être avec vous ne serait-ce que symboliquement, autant je souffre de ce qui se passe actuellement en Syrie. À chaque heure, à chaque minute, à chaque seconde, une victime tombe et cela me rend triste et amer.
Je pense que l'âme des victimes, les blessés, les gens dans les rues, tous sont présents avec nous aujourd'hui. Et ils nous disent combien la liberté est grande et précieuse et qu'elle est un don de Dieu.
Il y a peu de temps, j'ai demandé à un de mes amis: "Toi qui sors tous les jours manifester dans les rues, n'as-tu pas peur de te faire tuer?". Il m'a répondu: "Bien sûr, à chaque instant je mesure les risques et je sais que la mort me guette. Mais tu sais bien, Ali, à quel point la liberté est précieuse. C'est la première fois dans ma vie que je fais enfin entendre ma voix. Voilà 50 ans que je ne l'entendais plus, jusqu'à aujourd'hui. Quoi qu'il arrive et advienne, j'aurai au moins fait valoir mon droit à la vie et à la liberté".
J'exprime à toutes les personnes présentes et à tous ceux qui ont contribué à m'honorer au sein du Parlement européen – j'adresse mes salutations à M. Geoffrey Harris, chef de l'unité des droits de l'homme, et à M. Buzek, Président du Parlement européen – ma plus profonde gratitude.
(L'Assemblée, debout, applaudit l'orateur)
President. − I shall now hand over the Sakharov Prize certificates.
(The House accorded the prizewinners a standing ovation)