Belarusian opposition leader wins $70,000 human rights award after serving 11 years in prison.
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize was granted to Belarus opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for her work in the European country.
Last year, Kolesnikova was detained for shredding her passport at the Belarus border in protest of her attempted deportation.
A court in Minsk sentenced Kolesnikova to 11 years in prison earlier this month, accusing her of inciting large protests, plotting to overthrow President Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, and advocating for activities that would jeopardize national security.
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize honors outstanding civil society effort in human rights protection. At a ceremony in Strasbourg, France, Kolesnikova’s sister, Tatsiana Khomich, accepted the prize on her behalf from council president Rik Daems.
“This award is a sign of the entire democratic world’s solidarity with the people of Belarus,” Khomich remarked. It’s also a sign to us, Belarusians, that the international community believes we’re on the right track.”
See below for more Associated Press reporting.
Months of demonstrations erupted in Belarus after Lukashenko was re-elected to a sixth term following a rigged presidential election in August 2020, which the opposition and the West decried as a fraud. He launched a massive crackdown that resulted in over 35,000 arrests and thousands of police beatings.
“In standing up to a regime that has used force and violence to suppress peaceful and legal protest, Ms. Kolesnikova has demonstrated tremendous courage by risking her own safety for a cause greater than herself,” Assembly President Rik Daems said as he delivered the prize.
Kolesnikova, 39, has been a vocal member of the opposition. She showed up at political demonstrations, courageously approaching riot police lines and performing her distinctive gesture: a heart formed by her hands.
Viktor Babariko, the president of a Russian-owned bank who attempted to oppose Lukashenko, was disqualified from the race after being imprisoned on money laundering and tax evasion allegations that he denounced as political.
After that, Kolesnikova teamed up with former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was standing as an opposition candidate in lieu of her imprisoned husband Sergei. This is a condensed version of the information.