Sakharov Prize 2020: the nominees 

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Find out about this year's nominees for the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Jewher Ilham receives the 2019 Sakharov Prize on behalf of her father Ilham Tohti,  

The Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize every year to honour exceptional individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. In 2019 the prize was awarded to Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur economist fighting for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority.


Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by political groups and/or groups of at least 40 MEPs.


The political groups presented this year’s nominations in a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee in Brussels on 28 September 2020.

The nominations for the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are:


Name

Nominated by

The democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures

EPP, S&D, Renew Europe

Mgr Najeeb Michaeel,

Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq

ID

Guapinol activists and Berta Caceres in Honduras

Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL

The democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by Sviatlana Tsikhanouska

ECR

Polish LGBTI activists Jakub Gawron, Paulina Pajak, Paweł Preneta and Kamil Maczuga, founders of the website Atlas of Hate

Malin Björk, Terry Reintke, Marc Angel, Rasmus Andresen and 39 other MEPs

The democratic opposition in Belarus, is represented by the Coordination Council, initiative of brave women - main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich; musician and political activist Maryia Kalesnikava; and political activists Volha Kavalkova and Veranika Tsapkala - as well as and political and civil society figures - video blogger and political prisoner Siarhei Tsikhanouski; Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna; Siarhei Dyleuski; Stsiapan Putsila, founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA; and Mikola Statkevich, political prisoner and presidential candidate at the 2010 election.


Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is a teacher, human rights activist and politician who after her husband's arrest participated in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election as the main opposition candidate. Alexander Lukashenko was officially declared the winner in a contest marred by allegations of widespread electoral fraud and Tsikhanouskaya, after asking for a recount of the votes had to flee to Lithuania in fear of imprisonment. In response to the allegations of electoral fraud, large peaceful protests have erupted across the country and were pushed back by the regime with unprecedented violence. Meanwhile, a Coordination Council was established to represent the civic nation of Belarus and to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power.


“The people of Belarus deserve the Sakharov Prize, because Belarussians of all generations have revolted against the Lukashenko dictatorship,” said Latvian EPP member Sandra Kalniete. "Violence will not stop the Belarusian people in their demands for free elections and democratic change."


Dutch S&D member Kati Piri said: “This nomination proves the strong support for the legitimate demand and aspirations of the Belarusian people for new, free and fair elections, for democratic governance, for fundamental rights and an end to authoritarian repression on the European continent."


Urmas Paet, an Estonian member of Renew Europe, added: “The Belarusian democratic opposition is an inevitably broad concept and this candidacy presents a comprehensive vision that reflects the reality of a diverse opposition and clearly supports the courage and bravery of its civil society."


Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga explained why her group supported the nomination of the democratic opposition in Belarus, as represented by Sviatlana Tsikhanouska: “All these years, over political divisions, we supported, in the European Parliament, the democratic society, democratic opposition of Belarus. It was their choice (...) to choose Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as their leader and representative of the democratic opposition."

When the Islamic State arrived in Mosul in August 2014, Mgr Najeeb Michaeel, Archbishop of Mosul, ensured the evacuation of Christians, Syriacs and Chaldeans to Iraqi Kurdistan and safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century. These manuscripts were later digitised and exhibited in France and Italy. Since 1990 he has contributed to safeguarding 8,000 more manuscripts and 35,000 documents from the Eastern Church.


“This is a real opportunity to give this prize to a courageous person, an undying defender of the Christians in that land, to recognise and underscore the effort of this priest who stood up to barbarism and saved those manuscripts from Iraq,” said French ID group member Nicolas Bay.

The Guapinol environmental activists - Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Avelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kevin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Aleman, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Marquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz - are members of the Municipal Committee in Defense of Common and Public Goods of Tocoa. They are imprisoned for their participation in a peaceful protest camp against a mining company, whose activities had led to contamination of the rivers Guapinol and San Pedro. While other inmates were set free, the Guapinol defenders are still detained and the prosecution has not presented any solid evidence to justify this prolonged detention.


Berta Cáceres, assassinated in March 2016, was a courageous ecologist and prominent land rights activist from the indigenous Lenka community in Honduras. She was co-founder of the Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (COPINH). Over more than two decades, she was fighting against land grabbing, illegal logging and mega-projects. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Award in 2015.


Tilly Metz, a Luxemburgish member of the Greens/EFA group, described the hard times human rights activists are having in Honduras. “These are two symbolic cases showing injustice and impunity in Honduras.... Honduras has the highest rate of killings per capita, making it the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders."

Polish LGBTI activists Jakub Gawron, Paulina Pajak and Paweł Preneta, Kamil Maczuga founded in 2019 the website Atlas of Hate, mapping and monitoring the many local Polish municipalities that had adopted, rejected or had pending “anti-LGBTI resolutions’’ while spreading information to activists, media and politicians. Today, more than 100 municipalities or local authorities in Poland have declared themselves either “LGBTI-free zones” or adopted so-called Regional Charters of Family Values. In 2020, Gawron, Pajak and Preneta were sued by five of those local municipalities, for damaging their reputation and demanding a public apology and economic compensation to “family-friendly organisations” in the five regions.


“This nomination is about the bigger picture; respect of rule of law, democracy, fundamental rights, just about what this prize should be. These activists are now being sued in court exactly for their action to make visible the discrimination that LGBTI people are facing,” said Swedish GUE/NGL member Malin Björk.

Timeline 
  • 22 October: the winner is announced by the Parliament President and the political group leaders 
  • 16 December: Sakharov Prize award ceremony in Strasbourg 

Next steps


Based on the official nominations, the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists. Afterwards the Conference of Presidents - consisting of the President of the European Parliament and the leaders of the political groups - select the laureate.