Anatoli Marchenko (posthumously) – 1988, Russia

© Wojtek Laski/ISOPIX
A former Soviet Union dissident who brought to light the horrific jail conditions of political prisoners, Anatoli Marchenko was nominated by Andrei Sakharov himself.

'Anatoli Marchenko's heroic life and work represent an enormous contribution to the causes of democracy, humanism and justice', wrote Andrei Sakharov to the European Parliament when recommending him for the prize.

Anatoli Marchenko (1938-1986) was one of the former Soviet Union's best-known dissidents. He died in Chistopol prison following a three-month hunger strike for the release of all Soviet prisoners of conscience. He was only 48 when he died, but had spent over 20 years of his life in prison and internal exile. The international outcry that followed his death was a major factor in finally pushing Mikhail Gorbachev, then Secretary-General of the Communist Party, to authorise the large-scale release of political prisoners in 1987.

Marchenko became widely known through My Testimony, an autobiographical account of his time in Soviet labour camps and prison, penned in 1966. This work, copied by hand by the dissident underground and later published in the West, was the first to discuss the camps and prisons of the post-Stalin period, awakening the world to the reality that the Gulag had not ended with Stalin.

Its publication landed Marchenko in prison again for anti-Soviet propaganda, but before he was re-incarcerated in 1968 he openly became a dissident, publically denouncing jail conditions for political prisoners. In an open letter to the media in July 1968, he warned that the Soviet Union would not allow the Prague Spring to continue, a prediction which came true in August as Warsaw Pact tanks rumbled into Czechoslovakia, and Marchenko was once again sentenced to prison and then to exile.

However, the greater the repression, the stronger Marchenko's desire to act became. He became one of the founders of the influential Moscow Helsinki Group, together with Andrei Sakharov and future leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva. The group was founded in 1976 to monitor the Soviet Union's compliance with the human rights clauses of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the first act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which sought to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West.

He was arrested and jailed for the last time in 1980 for publishing his final book To Live Like Everyone. He did not survive his 15-year sentence. His death in prison was never publically investigated.

His widow, Larissa Bogoraz, herself an activist and Sakharov Prize nominee, received the prize on his behalf, which was awarded to him posthumously in 1988, the year the European Parliament created the Sakharov Prize.