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Address by President Tajani at the award ceremony for the 2017 Sakharov Prize

Human Rights

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It is an honour to welcome, on behalf of the European Parliament, the winners of the 2017 Sakharov Prize.

I should like to start by saying a few words about the other nominees short-listed this year.

Aura Lolita Chávez Ixaquic is an indigenous Guatemalan leader who has made it her life’s work to defend indigenous lands and marginalised communities.

The European Parliament’s commitment to protecting vulnerable ethnic groups and the rights of indigenous peoples is unwavering.

In keeping with that commitment, we are calling on the Guatemalan Government to protect Ms Chávez, who is in exile in Spain, and the Mayan people as a whole.

I should also like to welcome Bethlehem Isaak, who has come to Strasbourg to represent her father, the Swedish-Eritrean writer Dawit Isaak, who cannot be here because he is in prison.

Dawit Isaak was imprisoned without trial in Eritrea in 2001 and was nominated for exercising his right to freedom of expression in a country in which the press is not free.

The European Parliament is calling on the Eritrean authorities to release him and end the systematic persecution of individuals peacefully exercising their freedom of expression.

Welcome to the European Parliament, and thank you for being with us here today.

The award ceremony for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is a very important moment for us.

Putting political divisions aside, we come together to highlight one of this Parliament’s key priorities: the promotion of human rights.

Since it was first awarded, this prize has paid tribute to the courage which individuals and organisations have shown in dedicating their lives or their work to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It has become the most prestigious accolade which the European Union can confer on human rights defenders.

Every year, by holding this ceremony, we send out a clear message to the world.

But sometimes this is not enough. The winners continue to face dangers of many different kinds.

I should like to recall some of them: Hu Jia, the Chinese activist, Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger, Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian activist, or Razan Zaitouneh, an activist who played a key role in the Arab Spring.

They have become symbols and an inspiration to all those involved in the struggle to safeguard fundamental rights.

This year the Sakharov Prize has been awarded to the democratic opposition in Venezuela, in particular the National Assembly (whose President is Julio Borges) and all the political prisoners whose names appear on the list drawn up by Foro Penal Venezolano, represented by Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González.

As the images we have just seen made clear, however, the prize is not just for the democratic opposition, but for Venezuelans throughout the world.

I welcome the members of the Venezuelan diaspora who are with us here today.

It is the first time that an institution, the Venezuelan National Assembly, has won this prize.

Like all parliaments the world over - including ours - it symbolises democracy and pluralism.

President Borges, the European Parliament will always recognise the National Assembly democratically elected by the people of Venezuela.

In awarding this prize, we are defending constitutions, institutions and the separation of powers.

They, together with freedom of expression, are the basis for democracy.

Representatives of some of the political prisoners are with us here today.

I welcome them, as I welcome Antonio Ledezma, who is here by my side.

But we must not forget the others. According to Foro Penal, there are almost 300 of them. This prize is for them as well.

To emphasise this, I intend to send a letter to all the political prisoners in Venezuela.

Quite apart from the political prisoners, we must not forget the 130 people, some of them very young, killed during this year’s street protests against the government.

In a series of resolutions, the European Parliament has repeatedly condemned the brutal way in which the Venezuelan security forces have broken up peaceful demonstrations.

In Venezuela, the human rights situation is worsening day by day.

Last weekend, President Maduro took the arbitrary and anti-democratic decision to ban the opposition parties from putting forward candidates in the presidential elections.

We cannot allow this to go on, hence the decision to award the Sakharov Prize to the democratic opposition of Venezuela.

We want to see the country make a return to democracy, dignity and freedom.

The aim must be to resolve the economic and humanitarian crisis which the people of Venezuela are facing, a crisis which is having repercussions throughout the region in the form of significant movements of refugees;

to restore freedom of expression for individuals and the media;

to free the political prisoners who have been arrested unfairly and arbitrarily and are being held without trial;

to ensure that the members of the diaspora can receive their pensions;

to bring about a return to free and transparent elections involving all parties so that the Venezuelan people can take a decision on their future.

The European Parliament is ready to help by dispatching election observers as part of an international mission.

It is our hope and our wish that the award of the Sakharov Prize can help to bring the democratisation process to fruition.

In conclusion, therefore, it is an honour and a pleasure to present the 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition in Venezuela.

President Borges and Mr Ledezma, you have the floor.

Thank you!

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