On the occasion of the Sakharov Prize 2021 ceremony in Strasbourg on Wednesday, MEPs said they want to pay tribute to all defenders of human rights in Russia.
Like Andrei Sakharov, the eminent nuclear physicist and Soviet dissident, MEPs said they “courageously fight for democracy, truth and political freedom, despite efforts by the Kremlin to silence them.”
This is the case for Alexei Navalny, the 2021 Sakharov Prize laureate, one of Russia’s most influential dissident voices and anti-corruption activists. He has been in jail since flying back to Moscow from Germany last year, after having survived an almost lethal poisoning attempt. Soon after his sentence of nearly three years, his anti-corruption foundation has been recognised by a court decision as an extremist organisation and forced to close down.
It is also the case for ‘Memorial’, the most respected human rights organisations in Russia, founded by Andrei Sakharov. There are two main bodies to Memorial: the Memorial Human Rights Centre, which focuses on defending human rights, and Memorial International, which documents the history of political repression and crimes committed in the Soviet Union. Now, the Russian authorities have threatened to shut down both bodies for alleged violations of the country’s ‘Foreign Agents’ Law.
S&D vice-president Pedro Marques MEP said: “We congratulate Navalny on winning this year’s Sakharov Prize and we hope that this prize will contribute to his release and to his relentless struggle for democracy and political freedom in Russia. I truly believe that, as he recently said, sooner or later Russia will move onto a democratic path.
“Navalny’s arrest is a clear attempt by a desperate autocrat to silence his greatest critic. But Navalny is not alone. We are shocked by the scale of crackdown on civil society in Russia. Over the past 6 months alone, several thousands of young Russian pro-democracy and human rights activists have been forced to flee the country in the face of intensified levels of repression.
“Now Russian authorities have threatened to close down Memorial, the largest research centre on political repression in the USSR and modern Russia. Repression against Memorial is not only a fight against an independent association; it is a struggle with history and with truth. We urge Russia not to go down this path; only acceptance of your own past will lead to a more prosperous future.”
Evin Incir, S&D MEP and negotiator of the resolution on Memorial, added: “Yesterday, the Russian government initiated a groundless trial to attack the democratic forces of Russian civil society in a bid to shut down the Memorial organisations whose first president was none other than the human rights defender Andrei Sakharov. Today, the prize that bears his name, the Sakharov prize, is being awarded to the imprisoned political dissident, Alexei Navalny. This sends a clear message to the Russian regime: the EU will always defend the forces for democracy, no matter how repressive a regime may be.”
“The European Parliament will vote for a strong resolution tomorrow in which we will condemn the attempts to close Memorial and will call on Russia’s authority to repeal the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law – used to intimidate and silence critical voices and stamp out Russia’s active civil society.”