Belarus, Ukraine, Russia activists win Nobel prize

A jailed Belarus activist and two groups from Ukraine and Russia have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for championing human rights and democracy.

The decision to honour Ales Bialiatsky, Russia’s Memorial and the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties (CCL), is a rebuff to two authoritarian leaders.

Russia forced Memorial to close last December, ahead of Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Bialiatsky was imprisoned amid protests against Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko.

Ukraine’s CCL has monitored political persecutions and crimes against humanity in areas of the country occupied or annexed by Russia.

Norwegian Nobel Committee head, Berit Reiss-Andersen, told reporters that all three had made “an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power”.

Asked whether the committee was sending a signal to Russia’s leader on his 70th birthday, she pointed out that the Nobel prize was always awarded “for something and to somebody and not against anyone”.

Belarus’s long-time ruler is a close ally of President Putin. After a re-election in 2020 that was widely condemned as rigged, he brutally cracked down on protesters and then allowed Russian forces to use his country as a Launchpad in its war against Ukraine.

Memorial is one of the oldest human rights groups in Russia. Led initially by another Peace Prize laureate, Andrei Sakharov, in the late 1980s, its work uncovered the true scale of Joseph Stalin’s repression in the form of Gulag camps of forced labour, where tens of millions of people are thought to have died.

But it went on to document more recent human rights abuses, including kidnappings and torture in the Russian republic of Chechnya. The head of its Chechen branch, Natalia Estemirova, was murdered in 2009.

In December 2021, Russia’s Supreme Court liquidated Memorial, although it continues to operate in a harsh climate where criticism of the war in Ukraine is considered a criminal offence.

The head of Russia’s human rights council, Valery Fadeyev, urged Memorial to reject the prize, describing it as completely discredited, Tass news agency reports. -BBC

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