Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament’s annual prize for the defense of human rights, on Wednesday for his activism against corruption in Russia—activism that has frequently led him to clash with Russian president Vladimir Putin and cemented his status as the Kremlin’s foremost critic.
Navalny was not on hand to accept the prize, as he was in jail in Russia.
The activist is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for violating his parole conditions from an earlier arrest. Prior to his imprisonment, he had been treated in a German hospital for poisoning by Novichok, a Russian nerve agent. During this time, he failed to report to a parole officer, leading to his arrest when he returned to the country.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment, although the Russian government has described Navalny’s prison term as non-political and accused the EU of interfering in its internal affairs.
“[Navalny] has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime,” David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, announced on Twitter. “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.”
Navalny’s health has deteriorated in the Russian prison system, leading to accusations that the Putin administration was intentionally withholding medical aid. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned in April that there would be unspecified “consequences” from the United States if Navalny died in Russian captivity.
During Navalny’s time in prison, the Russian government designated the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the NGO that he helped to found, as an extremist organization and liquidated it.
The Sakharov Prize, which has previously been awarded to Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and Aung San Suu Kyi, also recognized the efforts of a group of Afghan women activists who had continued to push for women’s rights after the Taliban takeover in August.
“Today, the Parliament also honours a group of Afghan women, who have fought fiercely for equality and human rights in their country and who were shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize,” said EP Vice President Heidi Hautala in the prize’s announcement. “We chose to honour the bravery of these women, as they are among the first to suffer violations of their most basic rights and freedoms after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.