Belarus, Russia, Ukraine rights activists win Nobel Peace Prize

Belarusian rights activist Ales Bialiatski, Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation, Center for Civil Liberties, named winners.

Jailed activist Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties group have won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to document rights abuses.

The announcement was made on Friday at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Norway’s capital, Oslo.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbour countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine,” said Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen, who also called on Belarus to release Bialiatski from prison.

Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, leader of Viasna, a human rights group based in Minsk [File: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA]

The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns, or about $900,000, will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.

“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”

The office the human rights group Memorial in Moscow
A man leaves the office of the human rights group Memorial in Moscow [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Memorial said that winning the award was recognition of its human rights work and of colleagues who continue to suffer “unspeakable attacks and reprisals” in Russia.

“It encourages us in our resolve to support our Russian colleagues to continue their work at a new location, despite the forced dissolution of MEMORIAL International in Moscow,” said a statement by Memorial board member Anke Giesen to Reuters news agency.

‘Very powerful message’

Kristian Herbolzheimer, the director of the International Catalan Institute for Peace, told Al Jazeera from Brussels that the prize highlighted “the fraternity between these three countries who are facing similar challenges and situations”.

“But beyond that, the committee has awarded the relevance of civil society and that goes beyond these three countries. There is a shrinking space for critical voices inside countries all over the world, no matter if they are autocracies or democracies,” he said. “Therefore this sends a very powerful message.”

Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, founder of the organisation Viasna (Belarus), receives the 2020 Right Livelihood Award at the digital award ceremony in Stockholm
The Norwegian Nobel Committee called on Belarus to release Bialiatski from prison [Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via Reuters]

Bialiatski, the 60-year-old head of Belarus rights group Viasna, was arrested in July last year on charges of tax evasion, a move that critics of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko saw as a thinly veiled tactic to silence his work.

Bialiatski’s organisation, which translates to “Spring” and was founded in 1996, is Belarus’s most prominent rights group, whose work has charted the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Lukashenko and his security forces.

Established during mass pro-democracy protests several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it sought to help imprisoned protesters and their families.

In the years since, Viasna and Bialiatski have gained prominence as Lukashenko’s regime has leaned on more brutal ways of retaining its tight grip on power.

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