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Speech by European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek at the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought Award Ceremony 2011

Strasbourg -
Wednesday 14/12/2011

Dear Colleagues, ladies and gentleman,

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's Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought in 2011 to five courageous women and men who represent the Arab Spring. The Prize goes to:

Ms Asmaa Mahfouz (Egypt),

Mr Ahmed El-Senussi (Libya),

Ms Razan Zaitouneh (Syria),

Mr Ali Ferzat (Syria), and

the late Mr Mohamed Bouazizi (Tunisia) who passed away.

Human rights are universal. We all value human dignity, freedom of thought and expression, as well as a 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 swept across North Africa and the Arab world and many lost their life for basic freedoms and human dignity. In many places the struggle is ongoing as we speak. In Syria protestors' demands are met by bullets, teargas, tanks, arbitrary detention and torture. The latest number of deaths reported exceed 5000, including 300 children. [This must stop and the Assad regime must step aside. We fully support international efforts for justice, including a possible referral to the International Criminal Court due to the systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity].

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 you to stand and observe a minute of silence.

The 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. Their determination is an inspiration to all of us. I hope that their courageous involvement is a sign that the political changes will also bring about improvement in women's rights.

Today we have the honour to welcome in our chamber a young and remarkable woman, Asmaa Mahfouz who mobilized 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 and intimidation by the authorities.

Dear colleagues,

We are honoured to have Mr Ahmed El-Senussi 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 El-Senussi 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 El-Senussi's integrity, wisdom and experience should be greatly valued in this process.

Dear colleagues,

As I referred to it, the situation in Syria is extremely difficult. Sakharov laureate Razan Zaitouneh is forced to live in hiding. But she continues to denounce on her blog human rights violations committed by the Syrian forces. We commend her exceptional courage.

Ms Zaitouneh cannot be with us but she sent a very moving written message. A message of hope towards a free, democratic and pluralistic Syria. This was circulated to you this morning.

Dear colleagues,

The Sakharov Prize is awarded for the Freedom of thought and this can take many forms. Sometimes an image 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 Ferzat was still able to flee from Syria after being beaten up by security forces in August. Both his hands were broken. He cannot be with us today but I invite you to watch the video message he sent to us.

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