Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize goes to Maria Kolesnikova

The Council of Europe on Monday awarded its major human rights prize to jailed Belarus opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who was arrested last year after she tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced expulsion from the country, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, a court in Minsk found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and of calling for actions damaging state security and sentenced her to 11 years in prison.

At a ceremony in Strasbourg, France, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe awarded her its ninth Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which honors outstanding civil society action in the defense of human rights. The award is worth 60,000 euros ($70,160).

Belarus was rocked by months of protests after President Alexander Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He ordered a huge crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

“In standing up against a regime which has chosen force and brutality against peaceful and legitimate protest, Ms. Kolesnikova showed that she is ready to risk her own safety for a cause greater than herself – she has shown true courage,” assembly President Rik Daems said as he presented the award.

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