4th Mar 2024

Cuban dissident wins EU human rights award

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has won the European Parliament's 2010 Sakharov Prize for human rights.

The leaders of the assembly's political groups made the decision at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Strasbourg on Thursday (21 October) and later invited him to pick up his award in person in December, including a cheque for €50,000.

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  • Buzek in a written statement also called for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Cuba (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Its one of the most prestigious prizes in the world for human rights," Mr Farinas told EUobserver earlier this week, speaking by telephone from his home in Santa Clara, Cuba.

"European Parliament recognition of a particular cause is a great help," he added. "We don't see this as a personal prize but as recognition of the whole Cuban pacifist movement."

The prolific hunger striker has spent 11 and a half years in prison and is said to have come close to death in his latest hunger campaign, which ended in July. A 48-year-old psychologist and journalist, Mr Farinas has battled against censorship and human rights violations.

The move has the potential to upset the Castro administration at a sensitive juncture in Cuba-EU relations.

Former colonial power Spain has in recent months negotiated a mass-scale release of Cuban political prisoners and is keen for the EU to lift its last remaining sanctions. The last time a Cuban nominee won the prize, in 2005, Fidel Castro himself spoke out against the EU assembly.

"I sincerely hope that, together with Guillermo Farinas, the Ladies in White, another Cuban Sakharov laureate from 2005, will also be able to collect their Sakharov Prize in person," EU parliament President Jerzy Buzek said in the plenary chamber on Thursday.

The feelings were echoed by Mr Farinas.

"I will try to travel to receive the prize but it depends on the Cuban authorities," he said by phone. "Remember that they consider us to be 21st Century slaves without freedom of movement."

Mr Buzek in a written statement also called "for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Cuba."

The shortlisting of Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, which, according to the EU parliament's website has worked "to shed light on the injustices of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem," also had the potential to cause ripples in EU foreign relations.

The US newspaper, the Wall Street Journal in an editorial column on Wednesday said the late Soviet dissident after whom the prize is named is "spinning in his grave."

"The real insult is that an award meant to honor those who fight 'intolerance, fanaticism and oppression' is being considered for activists operating in one of the world's most vibrant democracies. By putting Israel in the same category with oppressive countries such as Ethiopia and Cuba, from which the other two short-listed nominees come, Europe's law makers have again discredited themselves while trying to delegitimize Israel," it said.

The EU parliament earlier this week also shortlisted Ethiopia's Birtukan Mideksa. Ms Mideksa is the 35-year-old leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party. She was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison but let out in early October.

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