The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought embodies Parliament’s support for human rights. Throughout the year the Sakharov Prize network of former laureates meets to highlight issues. On 23 and 24 May nine former Sakharov laureates met in Brussels to discuss, among others, how to adapt to the challenges facing human rights defenders in the digital era.
The session on defending human rights in the digital era was chaired by Cristian Dan Preda, vice-chair of the human rights subcommittee.
Sophie Busson, of Reporters Without Borders, which won the Sakharov Prize in 2005, sketched the challenges: “Internet is on the one hand essential as an instrument for human rights defenders because it gives access to information and allows debate. But at the same time, sometimes with the help of private companies, it is a very powerful instrument for governments.” She added: “There is concern about the use of mass surveillance on the internet; even in European countries no one is sheltered from such threats.”
Marie-ChristineVergiat, a French member of the GUE/NGL group, said: “The EU should be an example in fighting for human rights, but unfortunately at the moment security concerns are pulling us in the other direction.”
Zhanna Litvina, of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which won the prize in 2004, gave examples about how the Belarus government curtails human rights on the internet. She said a website giving information on demographic decline in the country was threatened with closure for “tarnishing the demographic policy of the government”.
Vitaliy Ponomarev, of Memorial, a Russian organisation which was awarded the prize in 2009, discussed how anti-extremistt legislation was being used in Russia: “There is no standard description of what extremism is and the courts apply these provisions arbitrarily.”
Elmar Brok, chair of the foreign affairs committee, talked about how countries like Russia and China use the freedom of speech in Europe to spread their propaganda. He said the right to respond was not resorting to counterpropaganda, but to promote transparency, access to information, pluralism and free media.
Sakharov Prize Network
The Sakharov prize network is composed of former Sakharov Prize laureates and MEPs. It was set up in 2008 to draw attention to human rights violations and to support former laureates and their causes.
The Sakharov Prize is awarded every year since 1988 to distinguish exceptional people who fight for human rights across the globe and to highlight their cause.