Belarus protest leader Maria Kolesnikova wins Vaclav Havel prize

Source: DW / /

The annual human rights prize was awarded to Belarusian Maria Kolesnikova at a ceremony in Strasbourg. The jailed protest leader was represented by her sister who accepted the award.

Maria Kolesnikova was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize Monday

The annual Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award was given Monday to the jailed Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) at a ceremony in Strasbourg.

Kolesnikova was unable to attend due to her conviction and sentencing last month to 11 years in jail for leading demonstrations against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko following the disputed August 2020 election.

Who is Maria Kolesnikova?
In September 2020, Kolesnikova was abducted by the Belarusian KGB which tried to force her abroad. Instead, she ripped up her passport at the Ukrainian border and was detained and held for one year before her closed-door trial.
A former flute player with the Belarusian philharmonic orchestra, Kolesnikova was represented by her sister, Tatyana Khomich, at the ceremony for the €60,000 ($70,290) prize.
Khomich said her sister would likely have dedicated the prize to the people of Belarus. She called it “a sign of solidarity of the entire democratic world with the people of Belarus.”
“If you do not want Belarus to turn into a gulag, we must support the Belarusian people today and now,” Khomich added.
Rik Daems, the president of PACE, said Kolesnikova represented “truly represents courage.”
In the eyes of the regime, Daems said Kolesnikova’s great crime was “wanting to have a say in who is in charge of her country,” which means, “standing up against a regime which used force and brutality against peaceful and legitimate protestors.”

What is the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award?
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Award has been awarded annually by PACE since 2013 to individuals or institutions for an extraordinary contribution to the defense of human rights.
The prize is named after Vaclav Havel, the late playwright, human rights activist and president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
Past recipients include Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti and the Saudi rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.