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The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights activists in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine amid a harsh crackdown by Minsk and Moscow on dissent and the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine .

Norwegian Nobel Committee head Berit Reiss-Andersen said Oct. 7 that imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties had received the prices for 2022.

The committee said the laureates have made a remarkable effort to document “war crimes, human rights violations and abuses of power” while demonstrating “the importance of civil society for peace and democracy”.

Despite the announcement of President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said that while awarding the prize to those who criticized him and regimes like his was not a direct message to the Russian leader, it was a way to highlight the “way in which civil society and human rights defenders are suppressed”.

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the decision, calling the winners “stalwart defenders of human rights in Europe”.

“Ales Byalyatski, the Memorial NGO in Russia and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine: the Nobel Peace Prize honors the stalwart defenders of human rights in Europe. As peacemakers, they can count on the support of France,” Macron wrote on Twitter.

Byalyatski, 60, who founded the rights group Vyasna (Spring) in Belarus, is currently in prison for tax evasion which his supporters have dismissed as politically motivated.

Belarusian opposition leader in exile Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she was proud Byalyatski received the award and it will mean the world will pay more attention to Belarus and its political prisoners.

“Of course, I would like to hug him. I remember the last time we met, he said, ‘Svyatlana, do what you do. Defend Belarus on the international stage. Talk about us. We, as human rights defenders, will do our job,” she told RFE/RL’s Belarusian service at a meeting of EU political leaders in Prague.

She added that the award shows how important Belarus is in the European context.

“I hope this will give our political friends some impetus to draw even more attention to Belarus, to work harder, to pressure the regime to release all political prisoners, including Ales Byalyatski, as soon as possible. .”

Since a 2020 presidential election handed authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office despite opposition and international cries that the vote was rigged, thousands of people have been beaten, detained and tortured by forces security for expressing their dissent.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Hlaz said a number of decisions taken by the Nobel committee in recent years had been “so politicized that…Alfred Nobel had to roll over in his coffin”. He added in comments quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the Belarusian government “just lost interest in him at a certain stage”.

Russia’s Supreme Court shut down Memorial, one of the country’s most respected human rights organizations, last December, saying the group violated the controversial “foreign agents” law.

Memorial has since created a new group, Memorial, The Center To Defend Human Rights, which operates without corporate status.

The award was announced the same day a Moscow court was holding a hearing into the seizure of Memorial’s assets, the rights group noted.

“Putin banned Memorial, but the world recognizes the real heroes”, said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.

Lana Estemirova, the daughter of Natalya Estemirova, the slain head of the Memorial Human Rights Center office in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, said RFE/RL that she “cried and was emotionally devastated” when she learned that Memorial had been nominated by the committee.

“Memorial is just an incredibly important organization for the Caucasus,” she said, adding that winning the award would be a blow to the Kremlin-backed authoritarian leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

“For [Kadyrov], Memorial and my mother were adversaries he was ready to destroy. They openly criticized his activities and were not afraid of him,” Estemirova said.

Kadyrov has been accused by Memorial and other rights groups of overseeing abuses against suspected opponents, roundups and summary procedures by law enforcement, and numerous intimidation tactics since his seized power with the support of the Kremlin in 2007.

Natalya Estemirova headed Memorial’s office in Chechnya and documented extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and other abuses by law enforcement officers in the region before she disappeared in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on July 15 2009.

His body was found hours later in neighboring Ingushetia with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. No one has been found guilty of his murder.

The Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, founded in 2007, has worked to strengthen Ukrainian civil society while working to advance the rule of law and respect for international law.

His work documenting war crimes and human rights abuses has gained prominence since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“Proud to receive the #NobelPeacePrize, it is a recognition of the work of many human rights activists in Ukraine and not just in Ukraine,” the group said in a statement. Tweeter.

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