Belaurus is in a deep crisis: opposition supporters with three women at the helm have been protesting against President Lukashenko for months. The EU has now rewarded this commitment with a prize.

Photo series with 13 photos

The renowned European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Human Rights this year goes to the opposition in Belarus (Belarus). Parliamentary circles of the German news agency confirmed this on Thursday. This makes the European Parliament the first institution to award the protests at international level with an award.

Prize for the democratic opposition in Belarus

The European Parliament stated that the prize is intended for the democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, political activists such as Svetlana Tichanowskaya and civil society personalities such as the politically engaged Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

Since the presidential elections on August 9, there have been regular protests in Belarus. The country is in a serious domestic political crisis. Former foreign language teacher Tichanowskaja is considered the leader of the democracy movement. The 38-year-old was surprisingly approved for presidential elections after ruler Alexander Lukashenko had her husband locked up in prison.

Her husband Sergej Tichanowski was not allowed to vote, and so was Viktor Babariko, who was imprisoned at the start of the election campaign. Tichanovskaya fled despite threats from the authorities.

With Babariko’s campaign manager Maria Kolesnikowa and Veronika Zepkalo, the wife of the politically active I.T entrepreneur Valery Zepkalo, the women formed a combative trio. Their appearances in the street election campaign were very popular – despite massive obstruction by the authorities.

Symbol of resistance to Lukashenko

The women’s troika led by Tikhanovskaya quickly became a symbol of the resistance against Lukashenko. After 26 years in power, the 66-year-old was named president for the sixth consecutive time – with more than 80 percent of the vote. But Tichanovskaya doubted the result. Her supporters declared her the real winner, but the mother of two was forced to leave the country in the EU’s neighboring country, Lithuania. Fearing for the family, she had the children taken there to safety during the election campaign.

Minsk: Ruler Lukashenko is accused of electoral fraud. (Source: ITAR-TASS / image images)

Zepkalo also went abroad, and for weeks the Stuttgart-trained musician Kolesnikowa led the mass protests against Lukashenko. After her kidnapping by the KGB secret service and the failed deportation to Ukraine, the opposition leader was put in jail – as did many of her fellow campaigners.

Lukashenko sees a threat to national security

Since then, Tikhanovskaya has been the leading voice against Lukashenko in exile. She repeatedly meets with heads of state or government at the international level, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. The EU no longer recognizes Lukashenko as president and has given Tichanovskaya and the democracy movement wide support. Belarus sees her as a threat to national security and has therefore left the civil rights activist much to be desired.

In addition to Belarusian opposition, murdered Honduran activist Berta Cáceres and other environmentalists, as well as Archbishop of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Najib Mikhail Musa, were shortlisted for the award. Last year, the human rights prize went to the Chinese-Uyghur economist and government critic Ilham Tohti.

The prize itself will be awarded at a ceremony in the plenary hall of Parliament on 16 December. The Sakharov Prize has been awarded by the European Parliament since 1988 to personalities or organizations committed to the defense of human rights and freedom of expression.

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