Nominations are now open for the 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought! The prize is awarded to the individual or organisation that Members of the European Parliament believe has done the most for international human rights and fundamental freedoms. The award is named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who dedicated his life to fighting for civil liberties and reforms in the USSR.
Nominees are currently being put forward by the political groups in the European Parliament, and in October a shortlist of three finalists will be announced by the Foreign Affairs and Development committees. The winner will then be chosen by the President of the European Parliament, and the chairs of each of the political groups.
The prize comes with a monetary award of €50,000, as well as access to a network of MEPs and Sakharov Prize laureates working to promote and protect human rights worldwide. Several of the previous laureates have received the award whilst imprisoned or otherwise persecuted by authorities, so the raised media profile can also help to highlight abuses.
We had a comment sent in from Jorge on our Suggest a Debate page, asking who should win the 2016 Sakharov prize.
So, who should win the prize? We had a comment sent in from Carmela, arguing that Edward Snowden is the “Western Sakharov of the 21st century”. She thinks he should receive the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament.
We recently spoke to Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Sans Frontières / Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that won the Sakharov Prize in 2005. We asked him who he thought should win the award in 2016:
I’m answering this question two days after a coup attempt in Turkey, but my answer would have been the same even if this had never happened. Reporters Sans Frontières believes that the prize should be awarded to Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper in Turkey.
In November 2015, Reporters Sans Frontières awarded his newspaper the Press Freedom Prize in Strasbourg. In Dündar’s acceptance speech, he said that from his office window he can see a cemetery and courthouse; two places in Turkey where journalists enter all too often…
The prize should go to Dündar in recognition of his fight for democracy in Turkey. He was put in jail simply because his newspaper published a report of weapons delivered by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist rebels in Northern Syria. That information was clearly in the public interest not just in Turkey, but also to anybody interested in the war in Syria. So, the situation in Turkey is so terrible, and Erdoğan is really giving in to such authoritarian behaviour, that we have really to defend Turkish democrats.
For another perspective, we also spoke to Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian MEP and member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. She is also a Vice-President of the European Parliament in charge of the Sakharov Network. We asked her, what is the impact of winning the Sakharov Prize?
Well, beyond the monetary impact, the prize has the even stronger impact of making people feel safer. I remember very well the case of Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician in Turkey, who, when she received the Sakharov award in 1995, was in jail because of her political activities. She was in the European Parliament recently, and she told me that the prize, at that time, made her feel less alone in her struggle. And this is why the prize is given.
Also, the Saudi blogger who won the prize last year, Raif Badawi, is also in prison. He’s a young blogger who simply dared to say that all religions are equal, and that even being an atheist is okay. He also spoke up publicly for equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. So, for him, it’s also a strong message of support from Europe that he’s not been forgotten, and that puts pressure on the Saudi regime to set him free.
My political group, the Greens / European Free Alliance, have proposed two Turkish activists to win the prize in 2016; Can Dündar, a journalist, and Esra Mungan, an academic. Mungan was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for ‘terrorist propaganda’ because she signed a peace petition, while Dündar was put on trial for being a traitor because he published something about illegal Turkish arms exports to Syrian rebels. Already these nominations make people think that it’s important to support activists who dare to speak up.
Who should win the 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought? Who do you believe has done the most for freedom and human rights? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!