Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny wins EU's top human rights prize over his fight against Putin

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Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny wins EU's top human rights prize over his fight against Putin
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
  • Alexei Navalny won the EU's top human rights prize over his efforts to challenge Putin.
  • Navalny was poisoned last August and subsequently thrown in prison.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday won the European Union's top human rights prize over his efforts to shine a light on corruption under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The award - the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought - is named after the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Past recipients of the prize include the late South African President Nelson Mandela and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Given he's in prison, Navalny is unlikely to be able to receive the $59,000 prize in person at the award ceremony in Strasbourg in mid-December.

Awarding Navalny the prestigious human rights prize marks a symbolic rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with the EU for years - particularly since Russia's unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014. Navalny is Putin's most prominent critic.

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"Alexei @navalny is the winner of this year's #SakharovPrize. He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life. Today's prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release," David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, said in a tweet.

Navalny, who is able to use social media via his lawyers, thanked the EU for the award via Twitter on Thursday.

"I dedicate my prize to all kinds anti-corruption fighters around the world: from journalists to lawyers, from officials (there are some, yes) and deputies to those who take to the streets to support this fight. I wish them perseverance and courage even in the scariest of moments," Navalny said.

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He described the award as an "honor" and a "great responsibility."

"I am just one of those many who fight corruption, because I consider it not only as the cause of poverty and degradation of states, but also as the main threat to human rights," Navalny added. "'Money loves silence,' as those throw people into prisons all over the world, torture them, deprive them of the right to a fair trial and fair elections, love to repeat."

Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet era nerve agent Novichok last August while in Siberia, and almost died. He was taken to Germany for treatment not long after.

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The anti-corruption campaigner returned to Moscow in January, and was promptly arrested. He was charged with violating the terms of his parole over a 2014 fraud conviction. This included missing parole meetings while he was hospitalized in Germany after being poisoned. Navalny in February was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, in a move widely regarded as politically motivated.

Putin, whose critics often end up dying in violent or mysterious ways, has been accused by leaders worldwide of orchestrating Navalny's poisoning. The Russian leader has denied any involvement. In March, the Biden administration slapped sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny's poisoning.

Navalny's imprisonment has also led to global condemnation, and prompted mass protests in Russia. He's suffered from health problems while behind bars, and went on a weekslong hunger strike earlier this year. The US has warned Putin that there will be severe consequences if Navalny dies while imprisoned.

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In June, Navalny's top aide told Insider that Putin was "dumb" to put him in prison because it turned the opposition leader into a symbol for people to rally behind. Navalny has continued to criticize Putin while in prison, at one point denouncing the Russian president as a "naked king" clinging to power.

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