Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas

Sakharov Prize Laureate 2002
oswaldo Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) is best known as the founder of the Varela Project, a campaign in support of a referendum on laws guaranteeing civil rights, free pluralist elections, the release of all political prisoners, and economic and social reforms in Cuba.

An active reformer since youth, he was persecuted and condemned on several occasions for his criticism of Fidel Castro's policies and injustices, but that did not stop him from founding, in 1988, the Christian Liberation Movement, now one of the largest opposition movements in Cuba. In 1990, Oswaldo Payá launched a call for national dialogue and started to gather 10,000 signatures in order to convert a civic proposal into law.

In 1997 he drew up the ambitious Varela Project, supported by thousands of Cubans but blocked by a counter initiative from the Cuban authorities making permanent the socialist nature of the Cuban state, an initiative they claimed was approved by a plebiscite.

Many of the Varela project campaigners were imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, but Payá did not give up. In 2008, he presented a draft law on amnesty for political prisoners to the National Assembly, and in 2010, he launched the Foro Todos Cubanos.

He was never imprisoned, but his family say he received various death threats. On 22 July 2012, he lost his life in a controversial car crash in Cuba. EP President Martin Schulz, in homage, stated his belief that 'Oswaldo Payá's ideas will survive as his work and commitment have inspired a generation of Cuban activists who were following his example in promoting political freedom and human rights'.

The Christian Liberation Movement continues to call for a clarification of the circumstances of his death. His family have rejected the official version of a car accident. His daughter, Rosa Maria, has pled for an impartial international inquiry into her father's death before the UN Human Rights Council and other international organisations and denounced the persecution and threats inflicted on the family by State Security agents. In June 2013, Payá's family moved temporarily to the USA.

His daughter Rosa Maria Payá attended the Sakharov Prize 25th Anniversary Conference at the European Parliament, the outcome declaration of which called for ' an inquiry into the death of Sakharov Prize Laureate 2002 Oswaldo Payá'.

In 2014, the family met Pope Francis, whom they hope will support a referendum on free elections in Cuba.