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Nobel Peace Prize awarded to activist; Zelensky, Navalny snubbed

The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to jailed Belarus rights activist Ales Bialiatski, as well as two organizations.

Human rights activist Bialiatski was announced as the winner on Friday by Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Russian group Memorial and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties were also awarded the prestigious prize.

The selection came as a surprise to many, especially after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were also nominated.

After Russian President Vladimir Zelensky launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Zelensky emerged as a hero figure in the world, standing up to the Kremlin strongman and not leaving home soil despite mounting deaths.

Meanwhile, Navalny, Putin’s fiercest opponent, is now locked up in a Russian “torture prison” after accusing Putin of corruption and war crimes.

The prize committee decided to honor Bialiatski, 60, after he famously helped spark the democracy movement that began in Belarus in the 1980s.

He has been behind bars since 2021 on charges of tax evasion widely considered to be politically motivated. He served a previous prison sentence from October 2011 to June 2014 on the same charge.

The Nobel committee said the founder of the organization Viasna — which translates to Spring — “devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country.”

Bialiatski, who has stood up to authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, has remained imprisoned since 2020 without trial. Reiss-Andersen called on Belarus to release him from prison.

“This year’s laureates represent civil society in their home countries,” the prize committee said during the announcement. “They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Nobel Committee, announces the winner of this year’s peace prize laureate at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”

Shortly after the announcement, Belarus opposition spokesman Franak Viacorka said Bialiatski is kept in inhuman conditions.

“He’s kept in inhuman conditions and we hope it will help to release him and thousands of others from Lukashenko’s and KGB’s cells,” Viacorka said.

Russian human rights organization Memorial and Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties also won the decorated award on Friday.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honor three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbor countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine,” Reiss-Andersen said.

Reiss-Andersen played down suggestions that the choice of this year’s three winners is a pointed message to Putin on his 70th birthday. She said the prize is always given to someone for something and not “against someone.”

It was expected that either Zelensky or Navalny would emerge victorious at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awards.

Navalny was initially jailed for two and a half years for parole violations in February 2021 after voluntarily returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from an apparent Novichok nerve agent poisoning in Russia that he accuses the Kremlin of ordering.

On March 24, Navalny was sentenced to another nine years in prison for fraud and contempt of court. The high-profile dissident says the charges against him were fabricated and politically motivated.

The judge ordered that Navalny, who has lambasted Russia’s war in Ukraine as “stupid,” be transferred to a maximum-security prison, where his rights to visits and correspondence will be reduced.

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