Venezuela’s democratic opposition was handed today in the European Parliament the EU’s human rights award for a peaceful transition to democracy in the troubled country.
The prize, named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was awarded to Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly legislature, which the government has stripped of powers, and all political prisoners, the EU parliament said.
Venezuela is suffering from a harsh economic crisis and President Nicolas Maduro’s government has clamped down on the opposition, jailing or otherwise barring from office many dissenting leaders and activists.
The European Parliament’s left-wing group GUE/NGL, which includes parties such as Germany’s Die Linke, Ireland’s Sinn Fein and Greece’s ruling Syriza, said it would boycott the award ceremony, saying the decision was politically charged.
Previous winners of the prize, first awarded in 1988, include Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and South African President Nelson Mandela.
Venezuela is currently facing a serious political and economic crisis. Spiralling inflation has left millions of Venezuelans struggling to buy food or medicine, while since the beginning of the year over 120 people have died in street demonstrations primarily against the government of Nicolas Maduro. The opposition-led national assembly has been stripped of its powers, and there are hundreds of political prisoners in the country.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was established in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year’s prize was awarded to the Yezidi women Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar.