EU awards 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuelan opposition

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ISTANBUL
Published 26.10.2017 14:49
Updated 26.10.2017 14:56
A file photograph shows opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez greeting sympathizers from his home in Caracas after being granted house arrest, in Venezuela, on July 8, 2017. (EPA Photo)
A file photograph shows opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez greeting sympathizers from his home in Caracas after being granted house arrest, in Venezuela, on July 8, 2017. (EPA Photo)

Venezuela's democratic opposition was awarded the European Union's human rights award on Thursday and the European Parliament called for a peaceful transition to democracy in the troubled country.

The prize, named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was awarded to the country's national assembly and all political prisoners, parliament said.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament.

Oil-rich Venezuela is suffering from a harsh economic crisis and President Nicolas Maduro's government has clamped down on the opposition, jailing or otherwise barring from office many dissenting leaders and activists.

"For the last several years, Venezuela has been in a political crisis. The ruling party has steadily limited the rule of law and in March 2017 the country's supreme court stripped the democratically-elected national assembly of legislative power," read a European Parliament statement.

"Since the beginning of the year, more than 130 people have been killed in street protests, most of them in anti-government demonstrations and more than 500 people have been arbitrarily imprisoned," it added.

"Today we are supporting a nation's freedom struggle," European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said.

"We also want to launch an appeal for a peaceful transition towards democracy and an opening of a humanitarian corridor to ease the suffering," he added.

In April, the European Parliament accused the government in Caracas of using "brutal repression" against those protesting against the creation of a new constituent assembly in the country.

The other two finalists for this year's Sakharov Prize were Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, a human rights defender from Guatemala and Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer, who was arrested in 2001 by the Eritrean authorities during a political crackdown. He has been imprisoned without a trial since and was last seen in 2005. Isaak was also a Sakharov finalist in 2009.

The prize will be awarded during the parliament's December plenary session.

Last year, the prize was awarded to Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two Ezidi women who survived sexual enslavement by Daesh in Iraq.

Previous winners of the prize, first awarded in 1988, include Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and South African President Nelson Mandela.

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