Alexei Navalny awarded the European Parliament’s 2021 Sakharov Prize 

Speech of the President of the European Parliament for the award ceremony for the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

Today we award the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought to Alexei Navalny. The empty chair in this plenary chamber symbolises, once again, a laureate who is deprived of freedom. To our deepest regret, Alexei Navalny can not be here with us today, as he is being wrongfully held in prison.   

I am nevertheless very honoured that we have with us Ms. Daria Navalnaya, the daughter of Alexei Navalny, who is representing him today, as well as his chief of staff, Leonid Volkov. His press secretary Kira Iarmysh is also present. On behalf of the European Parliament, I welcome you all and thank you for your presence.

I invite you now to watch a video dedicated to our laureate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

2021 is the year of the centenary of Andrei Sakharov. His peaceful struggle for the advancement of human rights and his courage to confront the repressive and brutal Soviet regime, inspired the creation of the prize we award today.

Andrei Sakharov would probably feel at the same time sad and proud to know that, more than 30 years after the fall of communism, the prize is awarded to Alexei Navalny, a compatriot.

While the sadness might come from the fact that nowadays political regime in Russia is guilty of repressing civil society organizations, curbing media freedom and holding political opponents in prison, there is no doubt that he would be proud to witness the determination Alexei Navalny had put into the fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The courage Alexei Navalny has proven is humbling and inspiring. Threatened, harassed, poisoned, arrested, imprisoned, he has not been silenced. As an anti-corruption activist, as a political candidate, as a blogger, as a lawyer, he has tirelessly fought for the Russian people right to speak up, to question and to oppose. Or to put it differently for his and other Russians freedom of thought and expression.

He has dared to confront an authoritarian, abusive regime and expose in daylight corruption and corrupts. Alexei Navalny once said that corruption flourishes when there is disregard for human rights. I believe he is right. The fight against corruption is also a fight for the respect of universal human rights. It is certainly a fight for human dignity, for good governance and for rule of law.

For defending these principles, Alexei Navalny was deprived of his freedom and nearly lost his life. He is a political prisoner. 

On behalf of the European Parliament, I call on his immediate and unconditional release.

As every year, I also urgently call on the release of all the other Sakharov laureates that are still in prison: Ilham Tothi, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Aymara Nieto and Raif Badawi. Among the hundreds of political prisoners in Belarus, there are also four laureates: Maryia Kalesnikava, Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, and Ales Bialiatski.

Other Sakharov laureates are facing harassment. It is the case of Dr. Mukwege, who has been the subject of an alarming rise in intimidation and death threats. It is also the case of Memorial, the 2009 laureate and one of the most ancient and important voices in the defence of fundamental freedoms in Russia, who currently faces a trial of liquidation.

In a world where authoritarian regimes and populistic forces attack human rights and undermine the fundamental freedoms, all these Sakharov laureates, and among them, Alexei Navalny, are proving to us all, through their example, what it means to never give up defending your rights and freedoms. They are an inspiration for all those that dream of a better, fairer society, in Russia and elsewhere. The European Parliament will spear no effort in supporting their fight and in protecting them.  

I, as well as the whole European Parliament, impatiently await the day in which once again Alexei Navalny will come to the European Parliament and he will be able to accept the Sakharov prize in person.

Ms. Navalnaya, Members of the European Parliament from all Member States are either present in the chamber either connected remotely to listen to you. You have the floor.