STRASBOURG, France – Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny, Brazilian defenders of the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples, including the murdered Marielle Franco, and Uyghur human rights defender Ilham Tohti have been nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2019.
Nominated candidates for the Sakharov Prize, which is awarded every year by the European Parliament, were announced on Thursday
The award recognizes human rights activists around the world and has been running since 1988.
The center-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament, nominated blogger and Russian opposition leader Navalny, who is known for denouncing corruption in the highest spheres of Russian power and being critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He does not only defend freedom of thought in Russia, but is one of the few voices of truth” the EPP said.
Navalny was arrested this summer accused of calling an illegal demonstration to protest against the rejection of Russian authorities to register non-official candidates in local elections, a move that resulted in more than a thousand detainees.
During his 30-day detention, he had to be transferred with “an acute allergic reaction” to a hospital from jail, although both he and his doctors said he had never had an allergy to anything.
Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament nominated the historical leader of the indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon, Raoni Metuktire, environmentalist and human rights defender Claudelice Silva dos Santos and posthumously Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro city councilor who was murdered in March 2018.
“They represent voices for human rights and protection of the environment,” the party said.
S&D vice-president responsible for foreign affairs, Kati Piri, said the struggle of Brazilian activists “deserve to be put in the spotlight as they represent the cause of environmentalist defenders and LGBTI activists around the world.”
“Although indigenous people make up less than 1 percent of Brazil’s population, a disproportionate number are being killed in land conflicts,” she added.
Piri also criticized the “climate of fear” that has been established since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January.
Franco’s posthumous nomination was also shared by the Greens/European Free Alliance, who also nominated Brazilian politician and gay rights activist Jean Wyllys.
Wyllys, Marielle Franco’s party partner, announced in January his decision to renounce his mandate as a deputy for which he was re-elected in October 2018 and to remain outside the country as an extreme measure to guarantee his life in the face of growing death threats.
“They’re symbols of the defense of freedom of expression and thought that the prize aims to advance and have dedicated their lives to these freedoms,” the Greens/EFA said.
The Renew Europe Group proposed Uyghur human rights defender and economics professor Tohti, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for separatism in China in 2014.
Renew Europe Group President Dacian Ciolos said: “By being such a fearless voice fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms in China, Ilham Tohti fully embodies the spirit of the Sakharov prize.”
Tohti is a university professor of economics who has promoted understanding between the Uyghur of the Xinjiang region and has already received the Martin Ennals Award, an annual prize for human rights defenders.
The vote on the three finalist candidates for the 2019 Sakharov Prize will take place in a joint meeting of the foreign affairs, human rights and development committees in October.
The prize-awarding ceremony will take place in December, during the plenary session in Strasbourg.