Sakharov Freedom Award goes to anti-torture fighters in Russia
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Sakharov Freedom Award 2017 is awarded to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the organization Committee against Torture.
"Novaya Gazeta and the Committee against Torture are awarded the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award 2017 for their outstanding efforts to bring torture out of the shadows and into the open in Russia where it has received public condemnation," says Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Bjørn Engesland.
"The lawyers in the Committee against Torture have won and continue to win an increasing number of cases in the Russian court system. They use Russia’s own legislation to convict human rights offenders, thus contributing to strengthening the belief that justice can prevail and in the efficacy of independent institutions in the country.
The journalists of Novaya Gazeta bring egregious acts of abuse into the light and publish independent news in a country where state propaganda and attacks on critical journalism are widespread," says a press-release by the NHC.
Among the most prominent individuals in these two organisations are Novaya Gazeta’s investigative journalist Elena Milashina, and deputy director of the Committee against Torture, Olga Sadovskaya. Both were in Oslo to receive the Sakharov Freedom Award during the celebration of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s 40 year anniversary on 23 November.
"Milashina and Sadovskaya are young, competent women who vigorously defend human rights in Russia," says Engesland.
In January, Milashina exposed systematic torture of homosexuals in Chechnya, something that stirred international condemnation of Chechen and Russian authorities. Sadovskaya has won numerous torture cases against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite repeated threats and physical attacks on office and staff, these laureates have succeeded in bringing torture out of the shadows in Russia where it has now received public condemnation.
"The Sakharov Freedom Award honours the effective cooperation between journalists and human rights lawyers," says the Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
About the laureates
The Committee against Torture was established by several young lawyers in 2000. The committee is headed by Igor Kalyapin, and defends victims of torture all over Russia from its headquarters in Nizhniy Novgorod. They have won numerous cases in Russian courts and in the European Court of Human Rights. Because of their efforts, a number of representatives of security services are now locked up for committing grave acts of abuse. Kalyapin is a member of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, and several of the committee’s lawyers are members of the Public Monitoring Commissions for Prisons.
The Committee against Torture conducted a country wide survey determining that one in five citizens of the Russian Federation at least once in their lifetime had been subject to unmotivated and illegal violence from a representative of the authorities, most often the police.
The Committee also works in the Federal Republic of Chechnya, where its office and activists have been attacked multiple times.
Novaya Gazeta was established in 1993, and is headed by chief editor Dmitriy Muratov. It is one of few independent, critical newspapers in Russia that has its own correspondents, a team of investigative journalists and cooperates closely with human rights activists. Since its establishment, six of its staff members have been murdered. Several of the newspaper’s investigative journalists are important contributors to the Panama Papers-expose, and in the documentation of the Magnitsky-case.
Russia is the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, one has so far been able to establish the motive in 58 of the more than 200 deaths of journalists since 1993. Only this year, Elena Milashina has received death threats several times, and her colleague Yulia Latynina has been forced to flee the country after her car was set on fire. Tatyana Felgengauer of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow was seriously injured after a knife attack in October.
The Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award
The award was established in 1980 by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, with the consent and support of Andrei Sakharov, to assist and support people who were imprisoned or persecuted because of their opinions, beliefs or conscience.
The first Sakharov Freedom Award was awarded in 1984.
Former recipients include the Russian election monitoring organization Golos, led by Lilia Shibanova in 2012, renowned human rights defender Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Kazakhstani human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis and Svetlana Gannushkina from Russia.
In 2014, the Award was presented to Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan.