Pakistan’s Malala wins EU’s Sakharov rights prize

Malala Yousafzai gives a speech after receiving the RAW in WAR Anna Politkovskaya Award at the Southbank Centre in central London on 4 October 2013. File photo/AFP/Getty Images/Justin Tallis


STRASBOURG, France, 10 October 2013

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage activist nominated for Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize by the European Parliament on Thursday.

To thunderous applause announcing the prize, the parliament’s president Martin Schulz said “Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected.”

The parliament’s vote for Malala amid a shortlist of three nominees “acknowledges the incredible strength of this young woman,” Schulz added.

The 16-year-old has become an emblem of the fight against the most radical forms of Islamism.

She was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban on 9 October last year for speaking out against them and has gone on to become a global ambassador for the right of all children to go to school.

Her old school closed Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of her shooting.

She was taken to Britain for treatment in the wake of the attack and now goes to school in the central city of Birmingham.

Feted by world leaders and celebrities for her courage, she has addressed the UN, this week published an autobiography, and could become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Friday.

In an interview with Pakistani radio station City89 FM this week she said she had not yet earned that accolade.

“There are many people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and I think that I still need to work a lot,” she said.

There was no immediate response from Malala, currently in New York, to winning the 50,000-euro ($65,000) Sakharov prize. It will be handed to the teenager at a ceremony in Strasbourg on 20 November.

Past winners of the prize include South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Malala first rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling the difficulties of life under the rule of the Taliban, who controlled Swat valley from 2007 until they were kicked out by the army in 2009.

In the region in deeply conservative northwest Pakistan, women are often expected to stay at home to cook and rear children and officials say only around half of girls go to school — though this is up from 34 percent in 2011.

Though the brutal rule of the Taliban has ended, pockets of militancy remain, with schools regularly being destroyed by insurgents.

Three jailed Belarussian dissidents and US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had also been short-listed for the EU’s Sakharov prize.

Belarussians Ales Belyatsky, Eduard Lobau and Mykola Statkevich were jailed after mass protests in Minsk in December 2010 against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Snowden, the US contractor who revealed widespread spying by the United states on friends and foes alike, has sought asylum in Russia.

Last year’s award went to detained Iranians, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi, to honour those “standing up for a better Iran.”

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is to finally receive the EU Sakharov human rights prize she won in 1990 at the height of the Myanmar military crackdown, the European Parliament said this week.

Suu Kyi, now leader of the opposition in Myanmar and aiming to run in presidential polls in 2015, is due to address MEPs on 22 October, according to the parliament’s schedule.

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