Imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties have won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, amid a war in their region that is Europe’s worst conflict since the Second World War.
The prize, the first since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, echoes the Cold War era, when prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize. peace or literature.
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The award will be seen by many as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, making it one of the most politically controversial in decades.
“We believe this is a war that is the result of an authoritarian regime, which is aggressively committing an act of aggression,” Norwegian Nobel committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen told Reuters after the news was announced. ‘yesterday.
She said the committee wanted to honor “three outstanding defenders of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence.”
“It’s not one person, one organization, one quick fix,” she said in an interview. “It is the united efforts of what we call civil society that can stand up against authoritarian states and/or human rights abuses.”
She called on Belarus to release Byalyatski from prison and said the award was not for Putin.
In July last year Belarusian security police raided the offices and homes of lawyers and human rights activists, arresting Byalyatski and others in a new crackdown on opponents in Lukashenko.
Authorities had decided to shut down non-state media and human rights groups after mass protests the previous August against a presidential election the opposition said was rigged.
“The (Nobel) Committee sends the message that political freedoms, human rights and an active civil society are part of peace,” Dan Smith, director of the International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters. from Stockholm.
The award will boost Byalyatski’s morale and strengthen the hand of the Center for Civil Liberties, an independent Ukrainian human rights organization that also focuses on fighting corruption, he said.
“Although Memorial has been closed in Russia, there remains the idea that it is right to criticize power and that facts and history matter,” Smith added.
In Geneva, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said Moscow was not concerned about the price. “We don’t care about that,” Gennady Gatilov told Reuters.
In Belarus, the award was not reported by state media.
Founded in 1989 to help victims of political repression during the Soviet Union and their loved ones, Memorial campaigns for democracy and civil rights in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Its co-founder and first leader was Sakharov, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
Memorial, Russia’s best-known human rights group, was disbanded last December for violating a law requiring certain civil society groups to register as foreign agents, capping a year crackdown on Kremlin critics unprecedented since Soviet times.
Memorial board member Anke Giesen said receiving the award was recognition of her human rights work and of her colleagues who continue to face ‘unspeakable attacks and reprisals’ in Russia.
Memorial’s award is the second in a row given to a Russian, following last year’s award to journalist Dmitry Muratov, shared with Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
The executive director of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Romantsova, said winning the award was “incredible”.
“It’s great, thank you,” she told prize committee secretary Olav Njoelstad in a phone call that was filmed and broadcast on Norwegian television. The group also tweeted that they were proud.
The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns, or about $900,000, will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the prizes. in his will of 1895.