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2020 Václav Havel Prize awarded to Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul

Loujain Alhathloul (Saudi Arabia)

The eighth Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights – has been awarded to Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul.

The 60,000-euro prize was presented at a special ceremony on the opening day of the spring plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), held in a “hybrid” format in Strasbourg.

Ms Alhathloul is one of the leaders of the Saudi feminist movement, having campaigned to end the male guardianship system, as well as the Saudi ban on women driving, and for greater protection for women facing abuse in the Kingdom. She spent 1001 days in prison as a result of her stand, and was only released in February 2020, though is still subject to house arrest and other restrictions in her home country.

Accepting the award on her behalf in a virtual address, Loujain’s sister Lina Alhathloul thanked the award committee: “International support is the only way we can expose the injustices in my country and protect the victims. Thank you for giving us the strength to continue our fight.”

She added: “Loujain sacrified herself to fight for a better life for Saudi women. Because of her activism, she was kidnapped, illegally imprisoned, brutally tortured, placed in solitary confinement for months, and now, sentenced as a terrorist. For years now, the Saudi regime has been trying to tarnish her image, to erase any support for her, and to make her forgotten. But the more time passes, the more Loujain proves to the world how incredibly brave, resilient and attached to her values she is.”

Presenting the award, PACE President Rik Daems, who chaired the selection panel, congratulated the winner. “Václav Havel continues to inspire us to dream big. And all three of our nominees have the courage, the passion, the energy and the determination to dream big. And to fight for their dreams of a better and more equal world. One where women are treated with dignity and respect.”

The two other shortlisted nominees were the nuns of Nepal’s Drukpa Order, a group of young Buddhist nuns who promote equality, sustainability and tolerance in their home villages in the Himalayas, and Congolese human rights activist Julienne Lusenge, who has been documenting sexual abuse and acts of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both were awarded diplomas during the ceremony, which was delayed by several months due to the exceptional situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by PACE, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, “to honour outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Europe and beyond”. It consists of a sum of 60,000 euros, a trophy and a diploma.

Since its creation, the Prize has been awarded in turn jointly to Ilham Tohti and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (2019), Oyub Titiev (2018), Murat Arslan (2017), Nadia Murad (2016), Ludmilla Alexeeva (2015), Anar Mammadli (2014) and Ales Bialiatski (2013).

Nominations are currently open for the 2021 Prize, and can be submitted until 30 June 2021 via this form on the website of the Parliamentary Assembly, signed by at least five sponsors.