Antonio Tajani, presents the 2017 Sakharov Prize to the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela

Antonio Tajani, presents the 2017 Sakharov Prize to the Democratic Opposition in Venezuela

The 2017 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded today to the democratic opposition in Venezuela, in particular the National Assembly (whose President is Julio Borges) and all the political prisoners whose names appear on the list drawn up by Foro Penal Venezolano, represented by Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, Daniel Ceballos, Yon Goicoechea, Lorent Saleh, Alfredo Ramos and Andrea González.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani recalled that ‘Since it was first awarded, the Sakharov Prize has paid tribute to the courage shown by individuals and organisations in dedicating their lives to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It has become the most prestigious accolade that the European Union confers to human rights defenders. Every year, through this ceremony, we send out a clear message to the world.’

In speaking about this year’s laureate, the President said the following: ‘The prize is not just for the democratic opposition, but for Venezuelans throughout the world. The National Assembly of Venezuela, the only one that is legitimate and democratically elected, is the heart of democracy and the symbol of pluralism. The other pillar of democracy is freedom of expression,’ the President added, referring to the political prisoners in Venezuela, estimated to number up to 300 according to Foro Penal Venezolano.

The Parliament has condemned the situation in Venezuela, made calls for a peaceful transition to democracy and paid tribute to the Venezuelan people, in particular those killed during the peaceful protests against the government and those unjustly imprisoned for expressing their views.

‘Last weekend, President Maduro took the arbitrary and anti-democratic decision to ban the opposition parties from putting forward candidates in the presidential elections. We cannot allow this to go on,’ President Tajani said.

In the last two years, the European Parliament has adopted four resolutions on Venezuela emphasising the need to establish a humanitarian corridor and for political prisoners to be released. It was also the first institution to call for European Union sanctions against the government of President Maduro.

President Tajani also referred to the two other finalists short-listed for the prize, Aura Lolita Chávez Ixaquic, the Guatemalan indigenous leader, and the Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression, who was represented by his daughter, Bethlehem.

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