The daughter of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accepted the EU's highest human rights award on behalf of her father for his fight against corruption.
Navalny was announced as the winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in October but was unable to receive the award as he is currently incarcerated in a forced labour colony.
Speaking to MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Daria Navalnaya insisted that Europe needs to stick to its guns and remain true to its ideals.
"When I wrote to my dad and asked: ‘What exactly do you want me to say in the speech from your point of view?’ he answered: Say that 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.
"But we also want Europe to strive for itself, to those amazing ideas, which are at its core. We strive for a Europe of ideas, the celebration of human rights, democracy and integrity."
Navalny's international profile rose in recent years as Putin's power grab intensified. In August 2020, the activist was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent and was hospitalised in serious condition, with many of his supporters fearing for his life.
Navalny was evacuated to a hospital in Berlin and eventually survived. He later accused the Kremlin of being behind the chemical attack.
The incident led to international outrage. The European Union, as well as the United Kingdom, imposed a raft of sanctions against several Russian high-ranking officials believed to be involved in the poisoning of the Putin critic.
On his return to his homeland In January, Navalny was immediately arrested for alleged parole violations. He says the charges were politically motivated to halt his challenge to the Kremlin. Russian authorities have opened a new criminal case against Navalny that could see him stay in jail for another decade.
Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to the Kremlin-critic during the 2018 presidential election campaign, who was also present at Wednesday's ceremony, told Euronews that Navalny's health condition is stable "for now", after going on hunger strike in prison earlier this year to protest against his lack of access to medical care.
He added that this recognition has a special meaning for his former boss.
"He reacted that he feels not only honoured, but also that he feels a lot of responsibility because, well it is probably the first time that the fight against corruption has been recognised as a human rights fight, which is indeed...the fight against corruption is a human rights fight."
European Parliament President David Sassoli was there to preside over the ceremony, where he praised Navalny’s spirit and tenacity, while also renewing MEPs call for his immediate and unconditional release.
"He has been threatened, tortured, poisoned, arrested, incarcerated, but they have not been able to actually make him stop speaking," Sassoli said. "As he himself said once, corruption prospers where there is no respect for human rights, and I believe he is right."
Commenting on the anti-corruption activist's award, Sergey Lagodinsky, a Russian-born Germany MEP said: "The prize means a lot, it is an appreciation of Alexei Navalny and the movement that he is part of. Awarding him the Sakharov prize is also a recognition of a new generation of young Russians who want democracy."
Navalny was nominated for the award earlier this year alongside Afghan women, following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and Jeanine Áñez, a Bolivian politician who became interim president in 2019 after alleged electoral fraud by Evo Morales. Áñez was later arrested for allegedly plotting coup d’état against Morales.
The Sakharov Prize -- worth €50,000 -- was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The annual award is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, an advocate of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union. The first recipients were Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko.