The European Parliament on Wednesday announced it awarded the European Union’s top rights prize to the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Navalny is unlikely to be able to travel to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on December 15 at the award ceremony in Strasbourg.
The prize, named after a Soviet dissident, is awarded by the European Parliament every year. Since 1988, the €50,000 ($58,156) prize has been awarded to individuals and rights organizations for their work toward promoting and defending human rights and freedoms.
Also among the nominees for this year’s award were UK-based environmental and rights group Global Witness, jailed former Bolivian President Jeanine Anez, Sahrawi activist Sultana Khaya and 11 Afghan women.
The parliament’s EPP Christian Democrat group announced Wednesday’s decision in a tweet. “Mr. Putin, free Alexei Navalny. Europe calls for his — and all other political prisoners’ — freedom,” it said.
In January, Navalny was detained after flying back to Russia from Germany. The 45-year-old dissident was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony for violating parole from a previous conviction he says is politically motivated.
Ahead of his return to Moscow, Navalny was in Germany for five months for medical treatment after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020 with a military nerve agent. Russia has denied its involvement and has accused the West of a smear campaign against it.
A Moscow court in June labeled Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and its network of regional offices extremist groups, a ruling that exposed Navalny’s allies to prosecution.
Last month, Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Russia, launched another probe targeting Navalny. The committee said that by 2014 Navalny had “created an extremist network and directed it” with the aim of “changing the foundations of the constitutional system in the Russian Federation.”
Still, Navalny’s allies have continued to criticize the Kremlin. During last month’s Russian election, they launched a tactical voting app in a bid to challenge the country’s ruling party.