The award comes as EU sanctions Belarusian officials amid protests and refuses to recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the leader.
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights to the Belarusian movement opposing President Alexander Lukashenko, led by the exiled Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
“It is an honour to announce that the women and men of the democratic opposition in Belarus are the 2020 Sakharov Prize laureates,” European Parliament President David Sassoli said on Twitter on Thursday.
“They have on their side something that brute force can never defeat: the truth. Do not give up on your fight. We are by your side.”
It is an honour to announce that the women and men of the democratic opposition in #Belarus are the 2020 #SakharovPrize laureates.
They have on their side something that brute force can never defeat: the truth.
Do not give up on your fight. We are by your side. pic.twitter.com/o6Xm4WYVKi
— David Sassoli (@EP_President) October 22, 2020
Tikhanovskaya became a top opposition candidate after her husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who had intended to run, was jailed ahead of the presidential election on August 9.
The European Union agreed this month to impose sanctions against officials suspected of election misconduct and involvement in a security crackdown on protesters in Belarus.
The 27-nation bloc has warned it is ready to sanction Lukashenko if he fails to enter into talks with the opposition and end the repression launched after a disputed election.
Lukashenko won his sixth term in office in an August 9 presidential election, which handed him 80 percent of the vote.
But the EU does not recognise the current presidency as it claims that the elections were “neither free nor fair”.
Mass protests have rocked the ex-Soviet nation since the vote.
Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger, got 10 percent of the vote. She and her supporters refused to recognise the results, saying the outcome of the vote was manipulated.
A 38-year old former English teacher with no political experience, Tikhanovskaya was forced to move to Lithuania under pressure from authorities.
Tikhanovskaya shares the prize with several leading members of the opposition’s Coordination Council, which was created after the election in a bid to facilitate talks on a transition of power.
Najeeb Michaeel, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul which was once an ISIL (ISIS) stronghold in Iraq, and Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres were among the finalists. She was shot dead in 2016 after a long battle to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River.
The EU award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honour individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year’s winner was economist Ilham Tohti for his work defending China’s Uighur minority.
The prize will be presented in a ceremony in Strasbourg, France, on December 16.