Activists in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine win Nobel Peace Prize

Activists in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine win Nobel Peace Prize

Groups lauded for fighting for 'the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens'

Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, founder of the organisation Viasna (Belarus), receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at a ceremony in Stockholm in December 2020. He is now in jail in Belarus. On Friday he along with two organisations in Russia and Ukraine were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Reuters File Photo)
Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, founder of the organisation Viasna (Belarus), receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at a ceremony in Stockholm in December 2020. He is now in jail in Belarus. On Friday he along with two organisations in Russia and Ukraine were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Reuters File Photo)

OSLO: Jailed Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski, the Russian organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian group Center for Civil Liberties have won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, highlighting the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.

The prize will be seen by many as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is celebrating his 70th birthday on Friday, and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, making it one of the most politically contentious in decades.

The award, the first since the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, has echoes of the Cold War era, when prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn won Nobels for peace or literature.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbour countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine,” committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said on Friday.

She called on Belarus to release Byalyatski from prison and said the prize was not against Putin.

“We always give the prize for something and to something and not against someone,” she told reporters.

Belarusian security police in July last year raided the offices and homes of lawyers and human rights activists, detaining Byalyatski and others in a new crackdown on opponents of Lukashenko.

Authorities had moved to shut down non-state media outlets and human right groups after mass protests the previous August against a presidential election the opposition said was rigged.

“The (Nobel) Committee is sending a message that political freedoms, human rights and active civil society are part of peace,” Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters.

The prize will boost morale for Byalyatski and strengthen the hand of the Center for Civil Liberties, an independent Ukrainian human rights organisation, which is also focused on fighting corruption, he said.

“Although Memorial has been closed in Russia, it lives on as an idea that it’s right to criticize power and that facts and history matter,” Smith added.

Memorial said on Friday that winning the award was recognition of its human rights work and of colleagues who continue to suffer “unspeakable attacks and reprisals” in Russia.

The Center for Civil Liberties said on Friday that it was proud to win.

“Morning with good news. We are proud,” the Ukrainian group wrote on Twitter.

The award was also recognition for all Belarusian people in standing up to Lukashenko, opposition spokesman Franak Viacorka said.

He told Reuters that Byalyatski was jailed in “inhumane” conditions and he hoped the prize would lead to his release.

“That’s a huge sign of recognition for the Belarusian people, because the Belarusian people deserves it for their bravery in countering the tyranny of Lukashenko. … They deserve all the prizes in the world,” said Viacorka, chief of staff to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is a close friend of Byalyatski.

The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns (about $900,000), will be presented in Oslo on Dec 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.

“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”

Last year’s winners were the journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, with previous laureates including Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King and the European Union.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel. The prize in economic sciences was added by Sweden’s central bank in 1968.


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