Human rights defenders from former Soviet states are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Human rights defenders from former Soviet states are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

The recipients include Memorial, an NGO banned in Russia, as well as a Belarusian activist and a Ukrainian civil society group

A Belarusian human rights advocate and two civil groups from Russia and Ukraine have been awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on Friday.

The laureates “have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the basic rights of citizens” and have “made an outstanding contribution to documenting war crimes, human rights violations and abuses of power,” a statement said.

The award went to veteran Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, the Memorial Group, which was shut down by Russia last year, and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.

Bialiatski is the founder of the rights group Viasna (Spring) and a vocal critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He also accused Russia of supporting the Belarusian leader during the mass protests in the country in 2020, which started after Lukashenko was re-elected in what the opposition claimed was a sham election. That year, Sweden awarded the activist the Right Livelihood Award, announced as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Belarusian law enforcement authorities arrested Bialiatski in 2021 on tax evasion charges and have since held him in pretrial detention. His supporters consider the 60-year-old a prisoner of conscience.

Memorial was one of the oldest human rights groups in modern Russia, originally created in 1989 to preserve the memory of the victims of Stalin’s purges. Over the years, the NGO has increasingly engaged in political activism and run afoul of the law in Russia.

In 2016, it was designated a foreign agent because Moscow accused it of taking money from foreign sources while engaging in domestic political activities. Last year, a court banned it from operating in Russia, citing the group’s repeated violations of rules governing foreign agents. Memorial and its supporters claimed that the group had been the victim of political persecution.

The Center for Civil Liberties of Ukraine has been active since 2007. Among the latest initiatives was a call to put Russian President Vladimir Putin on trial for alleged “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it wanted to honor “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence in the neighboring countries of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.” The three laureates furthered Alfred Nobel’s dream of lasting peace between nations, the body said.

Last year, the award was presented to Filipino-American investigative writer Maria Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. The latter has led a leading Russian opposition newspaper since the early 1990s.

READ MORE: “I would have given it to Navalny, but damn, I don’t feel guilty,” says Russian editor Muratov after being awarded the Nobel Prize

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenksy was one of the people and organizations nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. They also included Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition figure currently serving a prison sentence, and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian politician and presidential candidate who claims to have won the country’s 2020 election. All three were considered frontrunners for the award.



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