This year’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought has gone to five activists from North Africa and the Middle East for their role in the Arab Spring.
Asmaa Mahfouz from Egypt, Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi from Libya and Razan Zaitouneh and Ali Farzat from Syria were all honoured. Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi received a posthumous award.
Algeria’s Salima Ghezali, a Sakharov winner in 1997, told euronews the region’s fight for freedom was nothing new.
‘‘Democracy doesn’t exist in Arab countries at the moment, and yet the struggle for this in the Arab world is old. It’s only recently that we’ve started paying attention to this struggle,’‘ she said.
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov prize every year since 1988 to individuals or groups seen to have contributed towards the fight for human rights or democracy.
Chinese Sakharov laureate Wei Jingsheng said: “I think of all the freedoms and rights, the most important is the freedom of expression. This is what the Chinese people have been struggling for, to be able to express themselves, especially through the internet. But, this is exactly the arena the Chinese government is strictly controlling. Hence, the reason why you’re seeing such a conflict between both sides.’‘
While social media was recognised to have played a part in the Arab revolts, the EU parliament’s President Jerzy Buzek insisted human spirit was the overriding factor.
Also present at the award ceremony was Reyes Castanon, a member of the Cuban dissident movement, ‘The Ladies in White’, who won the award in 2005.
‘‘Without the Sakharov Prize, Europe would not have really known about ‘The Ladies in White’. People came to see us, like as if it was a show, while others came in solidarity.’‘ Reyes said.
The prize is named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.