The European Parliament has presented the European Union’s highest human rights prize to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule over the country.
Lawmakers on Wednesday announced on Twitter that Navalny is the winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award bears the name of the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
In a statement, lawmakers openly criticized Putin and called for Navalny’s release from prison.
“Mr. Putin, release Alexei Navalny. Europe demands – him and all other political prisoners – freedom,” the tweet said.
Navalny, 45, is currently serving a two and a half years in prison. Authorities say Navalny violated parole conditions based on his earlier 2014 sentence, which he said was politically motivated. The court stated that he did not warn the authorities about his whereabouts when he was sent to Germany for medical treatment. He spent five months in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning.
Navalny was arrested in January this year when he returned to Russia. European medical experts say he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
The EU imposed sanctions on the Russian leadership in connection with the poisoning and imprisonment of Navalny. The Kremlin continues to deny its involvement in the poisoning and criticizes the EU, claiming that the bloc is interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.
The Sakharov Prize of US $ 59,000 will be presented during a ceremony in France in December. In the past, the award has been received by South African President Nelson Mandela, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Venezuela’s democratic opposition.
Candidates this year included a group of Afghan women and an imprisoned Bolivian politician and former interim president, Janine Anez.
Some of the information for this article comes from the Associated Press and Reuters.