KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Human rights activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of the Ukraine has broken decades of almost unbroken peace in Europe, and to President Belarus, its authoritarian ally.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2022 prize to imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, Russian group Memorial and Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties. Bialiatski is the fourth honoree to be honored while in custody.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the panel honored “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.
“We are in the middle of a war and we are talking about two authoritarian regimes and a nation at war and we would like to highlight the importance of civil society,” she said.
In Ukraine, there has been some resentment at the idea of attributing the Ukrainian group alongside activists from Russia and Belarus, whose government allowed Russian forces to attack Ukraine from its territory.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that the Nobel committee had “an interesting understanding of the word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries who attacked a third receive” the prize together.
“No Russian or Belarusian organization was able to organize resistance to the war,” he said.
The Belarusian foreign ministry has denounced the Nobel committee for honoring Bialiatski, with the spokesman calling his choices in recent years so “politicized” that “Alfred Nobel was tired of rolling over in his grave”.
Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, retorted: “Well, I’m sure we understand Alfred Nobel’s will and intentions better than the Minsk dictatorship.”
Asked whether the Nobel committee was intentionally reprimanding Putin, whose 70th birthday is Friday, Reiss-Andersen said the prize was against no one but for the democratic values upheld by the winners. However, she noted that the Russian and Belarusian governments are “repressing human rights activists”.
It was the second year in a row that Putin’s repressive government was implicitly reprimanded with the award. It was awarded last year to Dmitry Muratov, editor of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, for their efforts in favor of freedom of expression. The two have struggled over the past year.
Bialiatski was a leader of the democracy movement in Belarus in the mid-1980s and continued to campaign for human rights and civil liberties. He founded the non-governmental organization Human Rights Center Viasna.
He was arrested following protests in 2020 against the re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He remains in prison without trial and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
“Despite enormous personal hardship, Mr. Bialiatski has not given an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” Reiss-Andersen said.
Pavel Sapelko, one of the leaders of Viasna, told The Associated Press that the Belarusian authorities will not be able to ignore the fact that Bialiatski won the award.
“This is a clear signal from the international community to the Lukashenko regime to release all political prisoners,” Sapelko said by phone from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where he moved after being forced to leave the country. Belarus. Bialiatski is both a lifeline, an alarm and a recognition of achievements.
Six of Viasna’s rights activists are currently imprisoned, while more than two dozen others operate in secret, monitoring the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus.
Memorial was founded in the Soviet Union in 1987 to ensure the memory of the victims of communist repression. He continued to compile information on human rights violations and to follow the fate of political prisoners in Russia. The country’s highest court ordered it closed in December, the latest step in a relentless crackdown on rights activists, independent media and opposition supporters.
Tatyana Glushkova, a board member of the Memorial Human Rights Defense Center, said one of the reasons the Kremlin sees the group as a threat is because it understands and educates people about the “parallels between the regime of Putin and the Soviet regime”.
Glushkova noted that the award came on the day the group was due to appear in court again – this time on a case related to its office building in Moscow. The court later ordered the confiscation of the building at the request of the government.
The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine during a time of turmoil in the country. Following the Russian invasion in February, the group worked to document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
“The center is playing a pioneering role in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes,” Reiss-Andersen said.
A researcher at the center, Volodymyr Yavorskyi, said the prize was important for the organization because “for many years we worked in an invisible country”.
“Human rights activity is the main weapon against war,” said Yavorskyi, who is married to a Belarusian and lived in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, until May 2021, when he died. was expelled with his 9-year-old son. He has been banned from entering Belarus for 10 years and said law enforcement beat him during interrogations.
The prize has a cash reward of 10 million Swedish krona (nearly $900,000) and will be presented on December 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.
Besides Bialiatski, three other winners received the award while in prison or in detention. German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky won in 1935, infuriating Adolf Hitler. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in Myanmar when she won in 1991. Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was serving an 11-year sentence when he received the Nobel Prize in 2010 and remained imprisoned until his death in liver cancer in 2017.
If Bialiatski is unable to receive the prize in person, he can ask a representative to collect it for him, as Polish winner Lech Walesa did in 1983, said Olav Njoelstad, secretary of the prize committee. . Alternatively, the committee could choose to symbolically place an empty chair on the stage, as they did when Liu won.
Jordans reported from Berlin and Gera from Warsaw, Poland. Sabra Ayres in Kyiv; Harriet Morris and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia; David Keyton and Karl Ritter in Stockholm; John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, and Boubkar Benzebat in Paris contributed to this story.
Follow all AP Nobel Prize stories at https://apnews.com/hub/nobel-prizes