2021 - 2030

Alexei Navalny - 2021 Sakharov Prize laureate

Portrait of Alexei Navalny being arrested
Alexei Navalny © Grigory Dukor-Reuters
Russian opposition leader, lawyer, anti-corruption activist and political prisoner Alexei Navalny became well known for organising anti-government demonstrations and establishing himself as the strongest opposition candidate to the ruling party in Russia.

Navalny was a member of the Russian Opposition Coordination Council, leader of the Russia of the Future party and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation. The Foundation published investigations into alleged corruption by high-ranking Russian officials, including two documentaries seen by millions: "He Is Not Dimon to You" (2017), about former Prime Minister and President Dmitry Medvedev, and "Putin's Palace (2021)", about a palace allegedly built for the Russian president, allegations the latter denied.

Russian authorities arrested Navalny many times. He received suspended sentences for alleged embezzlement in July 2013 and in December 2014. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the cases violated Navalny's right to a fair trial. In 2013, Memorial, the 2009 Sakharov Prize laureate, recognised Navalny as a political prisoner.

In 2013, Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow and came in second. He tried to run for President of Russia during the 2018 election but was barred by the Central Election Commission. The Supreme Court of Russia upheld the ban. Navalny urged boycotting the elections. Mass demonstrations took place across Russia, with authorities detaining over 1600 protesters.

In 2020, Navalny campaigned against the vote on constitutional amendments that allowed President Putin, after having served two terms, to run for president again two more times, effectively making him ruler for life.

On 20 August 2020, Navalny was hospitalised in a serious condition after being poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent. Two days later, he was transported to Berlin on a medical evacuation flight. An investigation into his poisoning implicated agents from the Russian Federal Security Service. The EU, UK and US responded by imposing sanctions on senior Russian officials. Navalny recovered from a coma five months later.

He returned to Moscow on 17 January 2021 and was immediately arrested at the airport. On 2 February 2021, a Moscow court sentenced him to two and a half years' imprisonment for the alleged violation of his probation for a previous sentence - he had failed to report to Russia's Federal Prison Service twice per month while he was recovering in Germany. In February 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian government should release Navalny immediately. The ruling was never implemented. In March 2021, after prison authorities failed to provide him with adequate medical care or allow doctors to visit him, Navalny carried out a 23-day hunger strike.

At the award ceremony that took place on the 15th December 2021 in Strasbourg, Daria Navalnaya, Navalny's daughter, and Leonid Volkov, friend and political advisor, represented the laureate and received the prize on his behalf. Daria Navalnaya addressed the audience with a message from Navalny himself: "no one can dare to equate Russia to Putin's regime. Russia is a part of Europe and we strive to become a part of it".

The European Parliament repeatedly asked for Navalny's immediate and unconditional release and called on the EU Member States to significantly strengthen sanctions against 'individuals and legal entities' involved in the decision to arrest and imprison him.

In March 2022 Navalny was sentenced to nine more years in prison for alleged fraud in a case observers called fabricated. In August 2023, he was sentenced again to further 19 years in prison on charges of extremism. While in prison, Alexey Navalny was denied rights he has under Russian legislation and was systematically sent to isolation cells, in imprisonment conditions amounting to torture.

Navalny died on 16 February 2024. The exact causes of his death are not known at this time. Reacting to this news, Parliament President Roberta Metsola stated that the world has lost a fighter whose courage will echo through generations and whose struggle for democracy will live on.

Jina Mahsa Amini and the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement in Iran - 2023 Sakharov Prize laureate

The European Parliament proudly stands with the brave and defiant who continue to fight for equality, dignity and freedom in Iran.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2023 has been awarded to Jina Mahsa Amini and the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement in Iran. The tragic story of Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for human rights and women's freedom in Iran.

On September 13, 2022, Amini was arrested by Iranian police in Tehran for allegedly violating the country's strict veiling laws and three days later she passed away in the custody. Amini's death ignited a fire of protest across Iran, particularly led by women, under the powerful banner of "Woman, Life, Freedom." Their demonstrations sought to challenge the oppressive hijab law and demand civil rights, putting an end to the oppression, discrimination, tyranny and dictatorship they are facing by the regime.

A year after Amini's death, which prompted a wave of anti-regime demonstrations, human rights groups reported that over 500 protesters lost their lives at the hands of security forces, and more than 19,700 were arrested. While the government largely suppressed the protests, Amini's death had a profound and lasting impact on ordinary Iranians.

The widespread protests, on a scale not seen since the Green Revolution of 2009, demonstrated the incredible resilience and determination of Iranian women. Their remarkable courage resonated with millions and drew international attention to the dire human rights situation in Iran.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is a powerful recognition of the sacrifices made by countless individuals and movements in their pursuit of justice and human rights. President Metsola, when announcing the award, emphasized its significance by stating,

"On 16 September, we marked one year since the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini in Iran. The European Parliament proudly stands with the brave and defiant who continue to fight for equality, dignity and freedom in Iran. We stand with those who, even from prison, continue to keep Women, Life and Freedom alive. By choosing them as laureates for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2023, this House remembers their struggle and continues to honour all those who have paid the ultimate price for liberty."

The Sakharov Prize stands as a symbol of the European Parliament's unwavering support for those who tirelessly advocate for human rights and freedom in the face of adversity. In the case of Jina Mahsa Amini and the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement, their determination and bravery have inspired a nation and brought the international community's attention to the ongoing struggle for equality and freedom in Iran. Their actions remind us that, even in the most challenging circumstances, the human spirit can rise above oppression and fight for a brighter future.

The Brave People of Ukraine - 2022 Sakharov Prize laureate

Since 24 February 2022, the Ukrainian people have bravely stood up to Russia's unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression.

The ongoing aggression is a new scale of the war Russia launched against Ukraine in February 2014 after the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, during which the Ukrainian people demanded that their country follow a pro-European path. Russia's unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine is inflicting enormous costs on the Ukrainian people. They are not only fighting to protect their homes, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, but they are also defending freedom, democracy, the rule of law and European values on the battlefields "against a brutal regime that seeks to undermine our democracy, weaken and divide our Union".

Every day, the people of Ukraine are suffering from Russian atrocities, devastation, destruction, loss of life, social and economic decline and other hardships. More than 10 million Ukrainians are living the life of internally displaced persons, and more than 6 million, mainly women with children and the elderly, have been forced to flee their homeland.

The EP Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2022 is awarded to the Ukrainian people, It highlights the efforts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together with the role of individuals, representatives of civil society initiatives, and State and public institutions including the State Emergency Services of Ukraine, Yulia Pajevska, founder of the evacuation medical unit Angels of Taira, Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights lawyer and chairwoman of the organisation Center for Civil Liberties, the Yellow Ribbon Civil Resistance Movement, and Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, which is currently under Russian occupation.

President Zelenskyy - the face of the Ukrainian people's courage, pointing out his bravery, endurance and devotion to his people and to European values.

The State Emergency Services (SES) of Ukraine - have been rescuing people, clearing debris and unexploded ordnance, and evacuating people to safer locations. As of the end of June 2022, SES had extinguished 10 078 fires, evacuated 1 861 000 people, rescued 1 487 people, and cleared 620 square km of mined areas.

Yulia Pajevska ("Taira") - Ukrainian volunteer, paramedic. Founder of the evacuation medical unit "Angels of Taira". Since 2014, she has been saving the lives of the military and civilians in the Donbass. In March 2022, during the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, she fell into Russian captivity. She spent three months in captivity.

Oleksandra Matviychuk - human rights lawyer, chair of the Center for Civil Liberties NGO. She has been recording war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian army in Ukraine.

The Yellow Ribbon Civil Resistance Movement - originated in the temporarily occupied city of Kherson, plays an important part in defending the freedom of speech and resistance against Russian intentions for occupied areas.

Ivan Fedorov - was elected mayor of Melitopol until 11 March 2022, when he was kidnapped by Russian forces and replaced by a pro-Russian interim mayor. Among Ukrainians, Fedorov had become a symbol of oppression and resistance and an example of courage in the face of invasion.