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Jailed Belarusian activist receives Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize 2021

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Prague, Czech Republic – Jailed Belarusian opposition activist Maria Kalesnikava has been awarded with the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize 2021, Czech media reported on Monday.

Described as one of the main female symbols of the Belarusian fight for freedom and civil liberties, Maria Kalesnikava was abducted and imprisoned in Minsk in September 2020, charged with harming national security and conspiracy to seize power.

She was sentenced to eleven years in prison on what is largely believed to be trumped up charges.

Her arrest came in the contest of Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on protesters and opposition activists following his contested reelection in August last year.

Ms. Kalesnikava, 39, is a trained musician, conductor and flutist and became, in March 2020, the campaign manager for presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka. After his own arrest in June of the same year, she joined the campaign of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and later emerged as one of the leading figures of anti-government protests held across Belarus.

Created to honour public figures for their fight for civil liberties and civil society work in defense of fundamental human rights, the Vaclav Havel Prize is awarded every year since 2013 by the Vaclav Havel Library, the Charter 77 Foundation and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The two other nominees for this year’s prize were the NGO Reporters without Borders and the human rights activist from Burundi Germain Rukuki. The first winner of the award in 2013 was another Belarusian dissident, Ales Bialiatski.

The award comes with a prize of €60,000, which was accepted on her behalf by Maria Kalesnikava’s sister during a ceremony at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

The Vaclav Havel Library is also planning a ceremony and conference in honour of this year’s laureate in Prague on September 29. You can find more information regarding tomorrow’s event here.