Belarus has been gripped by unprecedented youth and women-led protests since President Lukashenko claimed victory in an August election.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and European Parliament President David Sassoli in Brussels Belgium September 21, 2020.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and European Parliament President David Sassoli in Brussels Belgium September 21, 2020. (Reuters)

The European Parliament has awarded Belarus' democratic opposition its annual human rights prize, in support of the country's protests against the results of an August presidential election that the West and the opposition say was rigged.

"My message for you, dear laureates, is to stay strong and not to give up on your fight. Know that we are by your side," European Parliament President David Sassoli said after announcing the prize to "brave women ... prominent political and civil society figures".

The parliament cited 10 opposition figures in its award statement, including the main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Nobel laureate author Svetlana Alexievich.

Tens of thousands of people have marched through the streets of Belarus' capital Minsk every weekend since the election, despite police brutality and detentions, to denounce what they say is President Alexander Lukashenko's attempt to prolong his 26-year rule.

READ MORE: Tens of thousands march in Belarus, dozens arrested

Award for the people

Tikhanovskaya on a visit to Denmark said she was "really glad" about the prize.

"This is not my personal award, it is an award for the Belarusian people," she said.

"We are fighting and we are not going to step down."

The protest movement is largely unconnected with traditional political life and is mostly led by women and young people with no recollection of the Soviet era.

Almost all the figures linked to Tikhanovskaya – or the opposition Coordination Council set up to begin a transition of power – have been imprisoned, placed under house arrest or forced into exile.

Lukashenko has ruled out any major concessions, promising only vague constitutional reforms to get out of the crisis and staged a sham of a dialogue with opponents by visiting them in prison.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition figure detained for refusing to be forced out of country

Protests drew EU support

Tikhanovskaya, meanwhile, has won the support of the EU's biggest players, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel MacroBelarus has been gripped by unprecedented protests since Lukashenko claimed victory in an August election.

The EU, Britain, Canada and United States accuse Lukashenko of maintaining power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling independent media.

Russia is unlikely to be impressed by this year's Sakharov prize, having already denounced the choice of 2018 winner Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

The $59,180 (50,000 euro) Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded every year. Past winners include South African President Nelson Mandela, Venezuela's democratic opposition and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai.

Source: Reuters