The 2009 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has today been awarded to MEMORIAL, their three representatives Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, and on behalf of all other human rights defenders in Russia.
First awarded in 1988, the Sakharov Prize is named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov who helped to found the organisation as a means to document Stalinist repressions of peoples. From the initial idea of establishing a monument, a museum, archive and a library, it has since expanded into an active civil rights defence society of activists.
The Memorial organisation aims to promote fundamental rights in post-Soviet states including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Moldova and Ukraine.
On its website, the organisation describes itself as a: "non governmental organisation spread all over the former post soviet states, it's a research centre, a community of human rights NGOs, Memorial is a number of regional associations of former prisoners of political prison camps and members of their families."
Upon announcing the winner, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said "We hope to contribute to ending the circle of fear and violence surrounding human rights defenders in the Russian Federation."
The Pole and former anti-Communist campaigner added that he felt "personal satisfaction" over the award as "a man who comes from Solidarity and who saw Poland fighting for truth and freedom, which it finally won in the 1980s."
Three Memorial staff, Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, will be invited to collect the prize, which comes with a €50,000 cheque, at the EU parliament on 16 December.
The other two finalists for the prize, Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish (a Palestinian obstetrician in Gaza who treats Israelis and Palestinians) and Dawit Isaak (a Swedish journalist, writer and playwright of Eritrean origin who has been a political prisoner since 2001) also received commendations from President Buzek at the announcement.