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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Milinkevich Awarded Human Rights Prize

APPrizewinner Alexander Milinkevich
STRASBOURG, France -- Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the EU's top human rights award, on Thursday for his fight for democracy in Belarus, the European Parliament said.

The prize is awarded by the European Union assembly annually to a person or group judged to have made a particular achievement in the field of human rights, defense of international cooperation or promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

Milinkevich ran unsuccessfully against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in elections in March and became the symbol of Belarus' persecuted opposition. He was awarded the prize after two rounds of voting by leaders of the European Parliament's political groups, said Parliament spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke.

"Milinkevich is the face of the opposition in what is the last dictatorship in Europe. He is a brave man who has been willing to put himself at risk in an attempt to bring about change in his country," said Hans-Gert Poettering, chairman of the European People's Party. "We sincerely hope that this award by the European Parliament will substantially help his cause."

Other nominees shortlisted for the prestigious award, which comes with a 50,000 euro ($62,700) check, were people fighting for the release of hostages kidnapped in Colombia, represented by Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian presidential candidate held by the rebels while campaigning during the 2002 race and still missing; and Ghassan Tueni, the father of an anti-Syrian critic slain in a car bombing. The prize will be presented to Milinkevich -- if he is allowed to leave Belarus -- at a December session of the European Parliament.

The Cuban women's movement Ladies in White, Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim and media organization Reporters Without Borders were joint winners of last year's award, which was created in 1988 in honor of Andrei Sahkarov, a Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Milinkevich, arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail after running unsuccessfully against Lukashenko, led unprecedented demonstrations to protest the outcome of a vote denounced by the opposition and Western nations as a sham.