The finalists for the 2015 Sakharov Prize have been revealed, and they’re a virtual who’s who in the year of fighting oppression — and paying a heavy price.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded by the European Parliament in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Initial nominees announced in September included NSA leaker Edward Snowden, nominated by Germans as a whistleblower.
Today the finalist list was winnowed to three: all particularly deserving of the honor.
The first is Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison, a sentence upheld this summer by the Saudi supreme court.
His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children were granted political asylum in Canada. Fifty of the lashes were carried out in January, and international outcry — including from Prince Charles — as well as his poor health have led to periodic suspensions of the rest of the lashes, which have been scheduled to coincide with Friday prayers. “It’s effectively a slow death,” Haidar told the BBC. “…And since the ruling has been upheld, it’s probable — no, it’s certain — that he will be lashed.”
Badawi ran the site Free Saudi Liberals, where he explored separation of church and state, poked fun at edicts from Saudi clerics and sided against the Ground Zero mosque project in New York “to respect and appreciate the feelings of the victims’ families and to say with courage that a mosque should not be built at that particular site.”
The next nominee is the democratic opposition in Venezuela, nominated by Spaniards and Czechs.
Specifically honored is the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a broad coalition of opposition to the socialist regime in Caracas. Its leader is Henry Capriles, the governor of Miranda state who faced off against Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro in the 2013 presidential election.
Spanish MEP Luis de Grandes Pascual said “while the government (in Venezuela) was democratically elected, at the moment it is exercising a totalitarian control on the population. This collective group is part of the democratic opposition in Venezuela; they are struggling and fighting to exercise their rights.”
The nomination notes the continued imprisonments of opposition politicians such as Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, and the more than 1,700 pro-democracy demonstrators still awaiting trial from protests a year and a half ago. More than 70 protesters remain in prison and at least 40 were killed.
The third nominee, guaranteed to irritate the Kremlin, is Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered near the Kremlin in February.
“Boris Nemtsov was the definition of courage. I was honored to know him and bear witness to his defense of his beloved Russia. He stood up for the most basic right of expressing public dissent. His killing is shocking and outrageous to the civilized world but, sadly, not unexpected in Putin’s Russia today,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.) — who championed the Magnitsky law named after Russian attorney and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody — said shortly after the Feb. 27 murder.
Urmas Paet, an Estonian member of The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which nominated Nemtsov, hailed him as “a leading personality of the Russian civil society who worked for a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Russia. (…) As an opposition leader and civil society activist he worked to expose corruption and abuse of political power in Russia. (…) And he paid for it with his life.”
Past winners have included girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai in 2013 and Mohamed Bouazizi, the vegetable seller in Tunisia whose self-immolation over government regulation in 2011 sparked the Arab Spring.