The European Parliament has awarded the European Union’s highest human rights prize to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule over the country.
Lawmakers Wednesday announced on Twitter that Navalny is the recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award is named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
In the announcement, legislators openly criticized Putin and called for Navalny to be freed from prison.
“Mr. Putin, free Alexey Navalny. Europe calls for — his and all other political prisoners’ — freedom,” the tweet said.
Navalny, 45, is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Authorities say Navalny violated parole terms stemming from a prior 2014 conviction he says was politically motivated. A court said he did not alert authorities as to his whereabouts when he was flown to Germany for medical treatment. He spent five months in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning.
Navalny was arrested this past January, when he returned to Russia. European medical experts say he was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet era nerve agent.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Russian leaders over Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment. The Kremlin has continued to deny any role in the poisoning and criticized the EU, saying the bloc is interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.
The $59,000 Sakharov Prize will be awarded during a ceremony in France in December. In the past, South African President Nelson Mandela, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Venezuela’s democratic opposition have won the prize.
This year, candidates included a group of Afghan women and imprisoned Bolivian politician and former interim President Jeanine Anez.
Some information for this story comes from the Associated Press and Reuters.