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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prizes Honor Russian Lawyer, Uzbek Doctor

SAN FRANCISCO -- A jailed Mexican anti-logging campaigner, a Russian environmental lawyer and a Liberian conservationist were among seven activists awarded top world environmental prizes Monday.

Other winners of this year's $125,000 Goldman environmental prizes included an Uzbek obstetrician, an ethnobotanist from Madagascar and two Paraguayan activists who have challenged a major dam project.

"These selfless actions contribute to the survival of our planet and our ability to maintain life as we know it," Richard Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement.

The San Francisco-based foundation awards the prizes, dubbed the "Nobel" of the Green movement, each year to grass-roots environmentalists from six regions of the world.

The recipient for Europe was Vera Mischenko, 47, a lawyer credited with introducing the concept of public interest environmental law to Russia in 1991 by founding Ecojuris, the country's first public interest law firm.

The foundation said that in 1999, Mischenko and Ecojuris persuaded Russia's Supreme Court to reverse official efforts to skip the environmental-impact report requirement for an Exxon oil-drilling operation, and has successfully challenged government directives allowing clear-cutting of protected forests.

"This work has helped protect citizens' rights and vulnerable ecosystems as well as to strengthen the new Russian democratic system, which is so critical for the future of our country," Mischenko said in a statement.

The other prize winners included 43-year-old Oral Ataniyazova, an obstetrician from Uzbekistan who has sought to publicize the pollution and pesticide problems stemming from the rapid shrinking of the Aral Sea.

In 1992, she established a regional health center to help local women and children deal with increasing rates of anemia, kidney and liver diseases, allergies, tuberculosis and birth defects that activists blame on the heavy use of pesticides and defoliants dating back to the Soviet era, the foundation said.

Earlier this month, the foundation made an early announcement of the award to Mexico's Rodolfo Montiel, who has been jailed for nearly a year on charges of drug trafficking and alleged guerrilla links.

Montiel, a 44-year-old peasant leader who organized local people to fight logging by U.S.-based Boise Cascade in the Mexican coastal state of Guerrero, was arrested by the Mexican military last year.

Amnesty International and the Sierra Club, among other organizations, are seeking the unconditional release of Montiel and fellow activist Teodoro Cabrera, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and then beaten and tortured into making false confessions.

Nat Quansah, 46, of Madagascar, was the winner for island nations, credited with using his small village clinic to pioneer the use of the island's vast store of unique plants and animals to treat coughs, diarrhea, fever and wounds.

The founder of Liberia's first and only national park was the winner for Africa. Alexander Peal, 55, organized and led Liberia's Wildlife and National Parks department until 1990, when the country's civil war drove him into exile in the United States.

He returned to Liberia within weeks of the 1997 cease-fire and has resumed his efforts for conservation, securing Liberian Senate ratification of the UN agreement on biodiversity in November 1999, according to the foundation.

The two winners for South America were Oscar Rivas and Elias Diaz Pena of Paraguay, who have struggled for more than a decade against the Yacyreta Dam project and the Hidrovia plan to transform the Paraguay and Parana River systems into an industrial shipping channel.