EU parliament celebrates Arab Spring with Sakharov prize


The European Parliament honoured five Arab Spring activists with its Sakharov human rights prize Wednesday, including the Tunisian who sparked region-wide uprisings by setting himself on fire. Just two of the winners, who share a 50,000 euro ($70,000) prize, were in the parliament for the presentation ceremony.
Tunisian fruitseller Mohamed Bouazizi won the award posthumously for freedom of thought, while a Syrian pair, lawyer Razan Zeitouneh and cartoonist Ali Farzat, were prevented from attending “for obvious reasons”, according to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday.
The other winners were Egypt’s Asmaa Mahfouz and Libyan dissident Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi. Parliament president Jerzy Buzek hailed “five courageous women and men who represent the Arab Spring,” on the day Time magazine named simply ‘the Protester’ as its person of the year. Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, set himself on fire on December 17 to protest abuses under the 23-year Tunisian regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. He died two weeks later.
Egypt’s Mahfouz helped organise strikes and protests against Hosni Mubarak’s regime. “I would like to tell you how proud I am for all the martyrs of Arab revolution. We will not betray them,” she said in her acceptance speech. Libyan dissident Sanusi, 77, spent 31 years in prison after trying to organise a coup against late leader Moamer Kadhafi and is now working with the country’s new rulers.
While calling for reconciliation, he pointedly thanked Libya’s European neighbours for their “unambiguous diplomatic and military support.” Zeitouneh, a 34-year-old lawyer, created a blog to document atrocities committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime during its relentless crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners. She is in hiding and sent a letter praising “all the brave people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond” for fighting to secure a future “free of repression, prisons, and blood-spilling.”
Farzat is a political satirist whose cartoons have helped fuel the pro-democracy revolts. In August, Syrian regime security forces brutally beat him, breaking both his hands. He sent a video message expressing his grief and sorrow at the number of victims in Syria which “increases with every minute.” Past winners of the prize named after Soviet-era physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov include anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and former UN chief Kofi Annan.