Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wins EU’s top Human Rights award


Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been awarded the European Union’s highest award for human rights-Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The Russian political leader was nominated for the award along with Afghan women and Bolivian political leader Jeanine Áñez, who had served as the interim president of the nation in 2019 after alleged electoral fraud by Evo Morales. Jeanine Áñezwas was later arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Morales.

Navalny was selected for the honour by the leaders of the political parties represented in the European Parliament during a plenary session on October 20 in Strasbourg. The Sakharov Prize is supposed to be presented during a European Parliament session in Strasbourg on December 15. However, this seems unlikely in the case of Navalny as he is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year jail term in Russia.

European Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted saying, “Alexei @navalny is the winner of this year’s #SakharovPrize. He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life. Today’s prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release”

Who is Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist. He is the leader of Russia of the Future party and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

He had organised several anti-government demonstrations and had also run for office to advocate for reforms against corruption in Russia and against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government. 

He along with the his Anti-Corruption Foundation had published investigations detailing alleged corruption by high-ranking Russian officials. He had released a documentary in March 2017 accusing former Russian President and the then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption, leading to mass protests across the nation.

Embezzlement Case

Navalny had received a suspended sentence for embezzlement in July 2013 but despite that he had run for mayor in the 2013 Moscow Mayor elections but lost to incumbent mayor Sergey Sobyanin. He received another suspended sentence for embezzlement in December 2014. Both these cases were widely considered to be politically motivated and intended to stop him from running in future elections.

Navalny launched his presidential campaign for the 2018 presidential election but Russia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) barred him after registering due to his prior criminal conviction. The Supreme Court of Russia also rejected his appeal against the order.

Russia’s Central Electoral Commission said in 2017 that Navalny would not be eligible to run for president until after 2028.


Navalny was hospitalized in serious condition after he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020. He was evacuated to Berlin for treatment and was discharged a month later.

He held Russian President Vladimir Putin responsible for his poisoning. The European Union along with the United States and the United Kingdom responded to this by imposing sanctions on senior Russian officials.

Return & Imprisonment

Navalny was detained upon his return to Russia in January 2021 for allegedly violating parole conditions, as he failed to report to the federal prison during his illness.

His suspended sentence was replaced with a prison sentence in February, which means he faces over two and half years of prison time.  His sentence resulted in international outrage. 

Amnesty International has recognised him as a prisoner of conscience. The European Convention on Human Rights ( ECHR) also passed a resolution calling for his release.

Sakharov Prize

• The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was set up in 1988 by the European Parliament to honour individuals or groups who have dedicated their lives in the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

• The Sakharov Prize has been named in the honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, who was an advocate of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union.

• The first recipients of the Sakharov Prize were Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and Anatoli Marchenko, Soviet dissident and human rights campaigner in 1988. The Sakharov Prize was awarded to Marchenko posthumously. 

• The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Development shortlist the nominees for the Sakharov Prize. 

• The European Parliament’s President and political party leaders select the final winner’s name and the prize is awarded during the European Parliament’s session in Strasbourg in December. The Sakharov Prize comprises a cash reward of €50,000.

• Some of the renowned awardees of the EU’s prestigious human rights award include Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.

• Aung San Suu Kyi won the prestigious honour in 1990 but could not receive it until 2013 as she was imprisoned in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

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