STRASBOURG, France – The European Parliament awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on Thursday to the Venezuelan democratic opposition for its contributions to the defense of human rights.
In a statement, the Parliament confirmed that it had awarded the prize to the Venezuelan National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, as well as all political prisoners in the South American nation represented by prominent opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez, former mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea Gonzalez.
“For the last several years, Venezuela has been in political crisis,” the statement said, adding that the ruling party, which is led by President Nicolas Maduro, has steadily limited the rule of law and constitutional order.
It made reference to the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision in March to strip the then opposition-controlled National Assembly of its legislative power, citing Borges’ description of the crisis: “It’s not only a political confrontation in Venezuela. It’s a vital, existential, values-based confrontation.”
Since the onset of the deadly crisis, the number of political prisoners in Venezuela has risen to around 600, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a human rights organization that provides legal aid to those thought to have been detained arbitrarily, tortured or injured in protests as well as to people with limited financial resources who face legal action.
“Since the beginning of the year, more than 130 opponents have been murdered,” the statement said.
European Parliament lawmaker for the Spanish Popular Party, Jose Ignacio Salafranca, described the choice of award recipients as a symbolic gesture towards “restoring freedom, democracy, peace and human rights in Venezuela.”
Member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Beatriz Becerra, congratulated the prize-winners and said their recognition should “inspire the Venezuelans to continue their peaceful resistance, adding that it exemplified freedom and the rule of law.”
The recipients of the Sakharov receive a monetary prize of 50,000 euros ($59,000).
The two other nominees for the prize were Guatemalan human rights activist Aura Lolita Chavez Izcaquic and journalist Dawit Isaak, imprisoned without trial in Eritrea since 2001.