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‘Alternative Nobel prize’ to human rights and environment activists

A human rights activist from Belarus, currently rocked by protests over the disputed re-election of the country's long-serving authoritarian president, was on Thursday named as one of four winners of an award often called "the alternative Nobel prize." 

A human rights activist from Belarus, currently rocked by protests over the disputed re-election of the country’s long-serving authoritarian president, was on Thursday named as one of four winners of an award often called “the alternative Nobel prize.”

Ales Bialiatski and the human rights organization Viasna, which he founded in 1996, were cited “for their resolute struggle for the realization of democracy and human rights in Belarus,” the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation said.

Mass protests, arrests and clashes between police and protesters have hit Belarus since August, following the disputed election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko for his sixth consecutive term in office in the former Soviet state.

Lukashenko has tolerated little dissent in what is often referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship.

Bialiatski has been jailed several times over his activities.

Bialiatski and Viasna – initially set up to assist political prisoners, and which now also documents human rights and monitors elections – were the first Belarusian recipients of the award that was created to honour achievements pertaining to human rights, environmental protection and peace.

Commenting the award, Bialiatski said: “I fully realize that it is a historical combination of circumstances, namely the tragic and wonderful struggle of my people for justice, their sacrifices and selflessness that have led to the fact that human rights work in Belarus this year has become more necessary and relevant than ever.”

“This award is a sign of moral support for all Belarusians who are striving for democratic change,” he added.

The foundation said the jury considered 182 nominees from 71 different countries this year.

They were first announced in 1980, and are not connected to the prizes endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

Also named were imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, US lawyer and civil rights advocate Bryan Stevenson, and Lotttie Cunninghwam Wren, a lawyer and environmental activist and member of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito people.

Sotoudeh is the first winner from Iran. She is serving a more than 30-year sentence and was cited for “her fearless activism, at great personal risk, to promote political freedoms and human rights in Iran,” the jury said.

Stevenson, founder of the organization Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), was awarded for “his inspiring endeavour to reform the US criminal justice system and advance racial reconciliation in the face of historic trauma.”

Cunningham was lauded “for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder.”

Ole von Uexkull, foundation director, said the 2020 laureates were “united in their fight for equality, democracy, justice and freedom.”

“Defying unjust legal systems and dictatorial political regimes, they successfully strengthen human rights, empower civil societies and denounce institutional abuses,” he added.

Von Uexkull said the foundation demanded “the immediate release” of Sotoudeh.

Each of the four recipients is set to receive a cash prize worth 1 million kronor (111,000 dollars). An online award ceremony is scheduled for December 3.

Last year, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 17, was one of the winners.

Past winners include whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Denis Mukwege, a doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, for his efforts to assist thousands of rape victims. Mukwege shared the  2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

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