Five Arab Spring activists won Europe’s prestigious Sakharov rights prize Thursday, starting with the Tunisian fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the revolutions that toppled dictators.
The European parliament decided to award the prize to the market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi, along with Egyptian blogger Asmaa Mahfouz, former Libyan prisoner Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi, and two Syrians struggling for change in their countries, lawyer Razan Zeitouneh and cartoonist Ali Farzat.
“These individuals contributed to historic changes in the Arab world,” said European parliament president Jerzy Buzek.
“This award reaffirms parliament’s solidarity and firm support for their struggle for freedom, democracy and the end of authoritarian regimes,” he said, adding that it was “a symbol for all those working for dignity, democracy and fundamental rights in the Arab world and beyond.”
Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17 in the city of Sidi Bouzid, and died two weeks later — an act that symbolised the frustrations of Tunisians and triggered the revolt that ousted veteran leader Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
His brother Salem Bouazizi dedicated the prize to all Tunisian people.
“I am very happy, I offer this prize to the Tunisian people who succeeded in this revolution and have continued to express themselves during these elections,” he said, speaking in Tunisia.
“This prize shows international recognition for Mohamed Bouazizi’s role in the Tunisian revolution,” he added, four days after Tunisians voted in their first free elections.
The Arab Spring was honoured with a Nobel Peace Prize this year through Yemeni pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman, who shared the award with two fellow women’s rights champions, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and compatriot “peace warrior” Leymah Gbowee.
The European parliament chose to honour three men and two women symbolising the Arab Spring.
Mahfouz, a member of the April 6th Youth Movement, used YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to help inspire thousands of Egyptians to protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, leading to the downfall of veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
Libya’s Sanusi, 77, spent 31 years behind bars for opposing the regime of Moamer Kadhafi, whose four decades in power ended with his death last week at the hands of revolutionaries.
While the people of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia succeeded in ousting longtime despots, the uprising of Syrian dissidents is still being brutally repressed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Zeitouneh, a 34-year-old lawyer leading the groups coordinating the revolt against Assad, created the Syrian Human Rights Information Link blog to reveal the brutality commited by regime forces against protesters. She is now in hiding.
Farzat, a satirist whose fingers were broken by a group of men who ambushed him in August, dedicated the award to “martyrs of freedom.”
“I share this award with all who are deprived of freedom and democracy,” said Farzat, who spoke with AFP by telephone from Kuwait, adding that the prize “spreads hope for the future.”
Buzek will present the award — named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov — to the winners on December 14 at the parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Last year’s award went to Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who was unable to pick up his prize after the communist regime refused to let him travel to France.
Past winners of the Sakharov prize also include anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, Myanmar democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi and former UN chief Kofi Annan.