The European Parliament’s 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be awarded to Democratic Opposition in Venezuela in Strasbourg on December 13.

Following a decision by the Parliament President Antonio Tajani and the leaders of the political groups on 26 October, the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela (National Assembly (Julio Borges) and all political prisoners as listed by Foro Penal Venezolano represented by Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González) was announced this year’s laureate.

“The European Parliament is the driving force in defending and championing freedom, democracy and human rights, inside and outside our borders,” said Tajani. “Today, it is our duty to denounce, once again, the unacceptable situation in Venezuela. The Maduro dictatorship has robbed Venezuelan citizens of their fundamental rights, making the country spiral into an economic, social, institutional and humanitarian crisis. Over the last few years, the living conditions of Venezuelan people have deteriorated greatly, forcing a growing exodus of citizens to flee the country.”

According to a European Parliament press release, Venezuela is in political crisis. The ruling party has steadily limited the rule of law of and the constitutional order. In March, the Supreme Court stripped the democratically elected National Assembly of legislative power.

At the same time, the number of political prisoners has amounted to more than 600, according to the latest report of Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Penal Forum). Among the political prisoners are prominent opposition leaders Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 130 people have been killed in street protests, most of them in anti-government demonstrations and more than 500 people have been arbitrarily imprisoned.

“This prize not only recognises the Democratic Opposition of Venezuela’s courageous struggle,” said Tajani. “To all those who have been unjustly jailed for expressing their opinion, to those struggling to survive on a daily basis because of a brutal regime, to those families in mourning because they have lost loved ones in months of uninterrupted protests for freedom.”

However, not everyone agrees with the European Parliament’s decision to award the prize to the Venezuelan opposition. The leftist GUE/NGL Group has expressed its regret. In a statement, they said that the award will undermine any chances for dialogue but also for peace to prevail in any democracy.

“Human rights are too serious an issue and should not be instrumentalised for political purposes by Parliament.”