The Russian physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989), who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, first came to prominence as the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.
Concerned at the implications his work had for the future of humankind, he sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race. His efforts proved partially successful with the signing of the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.
In the USSR, Sakharov was seen as a subversive dissident. In 1970, he founded a committee to defend human rights and victims of political trials. Despite increasing pressure from the government, Sakharov not only sought the release of dissidents in his country but became one of the regime's most courageous critics, embodying the crusade against the denial of fundamental rights. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts.
Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky by the Soviet authorities in order to limit his contacts with foreigners. There he learnt that the European Parliament intended to create a prize for freedom of thought which would bear his name. From his exile he sent a message to the European Parliament in 1987, giving his permission for his name to be given to the prize and saying how moved he was. He rightly saw the prize as an encouragement to all those who, like him, had committed themselves to championing human rights.
The prize that bears his name goes far beyond borders, even those of oppressive regimes, to reward human rights activists and dissidents all over the world.