European leaders welcome Nobel Peace Prize for human rights activists

European leaders welcome Nobel Peace Prize for human rights activists
Managers of the Centre for Civil Liberties react in Kyiv (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

European leaders have welcomed the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to activists standing up for human rights and democracy in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has pushed Moscow’s relationship with its western neighbours to a new low.

Even before that, ties had been fraught over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and his repression of political opponents such as Alexei Navalny at home.

A supporter of the Memorial human rights group wearing a face mask with the words ‘The Memorial cannot be banned!’ in Moscow (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“I hope the Russian authorities read the justification for the peace prize and take it to heart,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said after the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to imprisoned Belarus rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian group Memorial and the Centre for Civil Liberties in Ukraine.

“It sends a signal that keeping civil society down is protecting one’s own power. It is seen from the outside and it is criticised.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was among world leaders who praised the laureates, tweeting that their prize “pays homage to unwavering defenders of human rights in Europe”.

“Crafters of peace, they know they can count on France’s support,” Mr Macron said.

In Paris, exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press that the award was “recognition of all the people who are sacrificing their freedom and lives for the sake of (Belarus)”.

“Physically, you know, this prize will not influence their situation but I am sure it (will) influence the moods and intentions of other countries to help those people who are behind the bars,” she said.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg congratulated the winners, tweeting that “the right to speak truth to power is fundamental to free and open societies”.

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