Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – Human Rights is EU ‘Core Value’

PHOTO © European Union 2012 © Architecte: AEL

Labour MEP Michael Cashman has welcomed the awarding of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to two imprisoned supporters of the Iranian political opposition.

The Prize has become a symbol for all those who fight oppression, authoritarianism and human rights violation and is awarded annually by the European Parliament. The twenty fifth Sakharov Prize will be awarded jointly to human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film maker Jafar Panahi in a ceremony at the Strasbourg Plenary tomorrow (12th December). Because they are both prisoners in Iran, the award will be collected by five high-profile human rights activists; including Cineasts Costa-Gavras and former Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi.

Michael Cashman, who has himself been recognised as a long-standing human rights activist and a defender for minorities, welcomed the award:

“By awarding this year’s Sakharov Prize to Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi the European Parliament is recognising the strength and courage of two individuals who have refused to be bowed by fear and intimidation. They have stood up for prisoners of conscience and freedom of expression. In doing so they have sacrificed there own freedom. This award shows that the European Parliament stands in solidarity with Nasrin, Jafar and all those who stand up for human rights.”

The award of the twenty-fifth Sakharov Prize falls in the week that the EU itself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Cashman added:

“The Nobel Peace Prize is recognition of the commitment and contribution of the EU over six decades to the principles of democracy, freedom, and human rights, as well as its efforts to promote these values across the world.

“It was a tremendous honour for the European Union to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, especially at a time when the EU and her member states are facing their own economic and social challenges.

“It’s all too easy for people to think of the EU in terms numbers and the sums and forget about the humans behind them. But the EU also seeks to promote the universality of human rights. Human rights isn’t just a goal for the EU, it’s a core value.

“That is why this week we celebrate the universality of human rights and we remember all human rights activists who tirelessly fight for this core value, around which the EU is constructed.”

i) The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organizations that have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy. The prize is accompanied by an award of €50,000

ii) Nasrin Sotoudeh, born in 1963, is an Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate. She has represented opposition activists imprisoned following Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and prisoners of conscience. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and has been held in solitary confinement. Sotoudeh has two children. She recently started a hunger strike in protest against the state’s harassment of her family.

iii) Jafar Panahi, born in 1960, is an Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor. He first achieved international recognition with his film The White Balloon that won the Caméra d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. His films often focus on the hardships faced by children, the impoverished and women in Iran.

Mr Panahi was arrested in March 2010 and later sentenced to six years in jail and a 20-year ban on directing any movies or leaving the country. His latest film “This Is Not a Film” was smuggled from Iran to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on a USB stick hidden inside a cake.

iii) Sotoudeh and Panahi were nominated by the Socialists and Democrats, Liberals and Democrats and Greens/European Free Alliance groups.

iv) The two other finalists were Ales Bialiatski and Pussy Riot

v) The EU was presented with the Nobel Prize in Oslo on December 10th. December 10th also marks Human Rights Day- the date chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.