Arab Spring activists honoured


The memory of the young Tunisian man who sparked the Arab Spring revolutions by setting himself on fire as a sign of protest was posthumously awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought today at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Four other Arab Spring activists were also honoured with the distinguished award for the decisive roles they have played in the various movements that swept through North Africa earlier this year.

The prize, which is named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988.

Prior to speeches from the activists present to accept their awards, the parliament observed a minute's silence in memory of Mr Bouazizi, and of all those who lost their lives in the uprisings.

"By awarding the Sakharov Prize to the five Arab Spring activists, the European Parliament recognises the efforts of all those who struggle for dignity, basic freedoms and political change in the Arab world," the president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek said this morning at the ceremony.

"The historical events also remind us of our responsibilities, including the need to support an emerging, young and vibrant civil society" and he underlined the "decisive role played by women during the Arab Spring," he added.

The winners expressed their gratitude for the prize as an important symbol of Europe's vital support during the Arab Spring uprisings. They also pointed to the human rights challenges that their countries still face in their efforts to rebuild and set up genuinely democratic regimes that respect justice and human dignity.

Only two of the laureates were able to attend the award ceremony in person, Asmaa Mahfouz, a young blogger from Egypt, and Ahmed El-Senussi, Libya's longest-serving prisoner of conscience, who spent over 30 years in jail as a prisoner of conscience under the rule of Muammar Gaddafy.

In her acceptance speech, Asmaa Mahfouz said: "This reward pays homage to all those people in Egypt who have been much more courageous than me and actually sacrificed their lives on the streets. I would like to tell you how proud I am for all the martyrs of Arab revolution. We will not betray them, we will follow the road."

Ahmed El-Senussi pointed to the importance of reconciliation: "We need to rebuild our country, showing tolerance even towards those who committed crimes, who violated human dignity." He thanked Libya's European neighbours, the first to go to Libya's aid, for their "unambiguous diplomatic and military support".

The Syrian cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, who is exiled in Kuwait, send a video message in which he voiced his gratitude for the prize and also his grief and sorrow at the number of victims in his home country Syria which "increases with every minute".

Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, was forced to only send a letter of thanks for the award as she is currently in hiding after Syrian police arrested her husband and brother.

2011 Sakharov prize laureates

Ms Asmaa Mahfouz

Asmaa Mahfouz is a young Egyptian blogger whose YouTube videos brought thousands of people onto the streets to protest against the repressive regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Ahmed El-Senussi

Ahmed El-Senussi was Libya's longest-serving prisoner of conscience, detained for 31 years following an attempted coup against the former dictator Gaddafy.

Mr Mohamed Bouazizi

Mohammed Bouazizi was a young street salesman whose self-immolation sparked widespread protests within hours that finally led to the fall of the Tunisian regime.

Mr Ali Ferzat

Ali Ferzat is a Syrian cartoonist known for his caricatures ridiculing Arab dictators. He fled Syria after he was attacked in August and had both his hands broken.

Mrs Razan Zaitouneh

Razan Zaitouneh is a human rights lawyer from Syria who went into hiding after being accused by the government of being a foreign agent because of her daily reports on her website ShRIL and to foreign media of the atrocities against civilians in Syria.