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Sakharov Prize Award Ceremony 2018 - Strasbourg, Wednesday 11 December 2018


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Dear colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered today to honour Oleg Sentsov, the Laureate of this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

A Ukrainian film director and writer imprisoned for political reasons.

He was nominated for his peaceful protest against the illegal occupation of his native Crimea.

Also for his courage, determination and his convictions in support of human dignity, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

These are the values on which our Union is built, values that this Parliament cherishes, upholds and promotes.

Sentsov’s hunger strike and courageous public stance made him a symbol of the struggle for the release of political prisoners held in Russia and around the world.

His cousin Natalia Kaplan and his Lawyer Dimitiy Dinze represent Oleg Sentsov today. Welcome!

In a resolution adopted in July, the European Parliament demanded his immediate and unconditional release and all other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean peninsula. I strongly restate that call today.

Let me also welcome:

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters With Borders, Sakharov Prize winner in 2005;

And the representatives of this year’s finalists:

The EU non-governmental organisations helping to protect human rights and to save the lives of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

By launching search and rescue actions, workers and volunteers of these NGOs have been saving lives while often risking their own. They are part of the humanitarian response to the migration problem and demonstrate the best of our values.

I also welcome the parents of Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of the Hirak movement in the Rif region in Morocco.

Like Sentsov, he was arrested and sentenced to a long term in jail, [20 years], because he peacefully protested against corruption and the abuses of power.

We stand in solidarity with demands for social justice and dignity for every human being, everywhere. Nasser Zefzafi should be freed, too.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will now watch a short video on this year’s laureate.




Two days ago, we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This Parliament took part in the celebrations with a dedicated Human Rights week at the end of November.

The Declaration remains a visionary document and a milestone for humanity.

However, its provisions are not self-enforcing.

Defending the dignity of each human being, everywhere, remains a challenge today. We need to fight even harder to ensure that all human rights are universally accepted and defended. 

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was created 30 years ago.

It has rewarded courageous activists from every corner of the world, making it the loudest European voice on human rights.

In the 30 years of its existence, the Prize has supported individuals and organizations around the world fully committed to fight for social justice, often at great personal risk.

Five Sakharov laureates were subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am particularly proud to see that our laureates Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize just this Monday.

In May, Sentsov went on a 145-day long hunger strike, asking for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.

He was forced to end his hunger strike in October, under the threat of force-feeding and due to the critical state of his health.

The European film academy, Russian filmmakers, many human rights groups and personalities have called for his release. The Russian Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’, 2009 Sakharov Prize laureate, has recognised Sentsov as a political prisoner.

The award of this Sakharov Prize comes against a background of serious tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

This Parliament adopted a resolution in which we expressed our concern about the very volatile security situation in the Sea of Azov, its continued militarisation and that of the entire Black Sea region.

Since then, tensions have risen gravely.

We call for utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation and reiterate our support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Let me conclude with a thought for our laureates who continue to face difficulties or risks.

Nasreen Sotoudeh was arrested in June. We are very worried about her situation and we call for her immediate and unconditional release. We will adopt an urgency resolution on Iran and her case tomorrow.

Raif Badawi, 2015 Laureate, is still in prison for peacefully advocating for the freedom to debate on social, political and religious questions. 

Venezuelan laureate Leopoldo Lopez is kept under house arrest.

Razan Zeitouneh from Syria has been kidnapped since several years now and her fate is unknown.

Chinese activist Hu-Jia lives under constant surveillance.

Damas de Blanco from Cuba continue to face intimidation and arrests.

Finally, Oleg Sentsov, to whom we pay tribute today. We all look forward to the day when he will be able to come to receive his Prize himself.

The Sakharov Prize is not only an award. It is a commitment. And we keep standing close besides our laureates.


Thank you!

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