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2023 Václav Havel Prize awarded to imprisoned Turkish human rights defender Osman Kavala

2023 Václav Havel Prize awarded to imprisoned Turkish human rights defender Osman Kavala

The eleventh Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights – has been awarded to imprisoned Turkish human rights defender, philanthropist and civil society activist Osman Kavala.

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

Mr Kavala, a supporter of numerous civil society organisations in Türkiye for many years, has been in prison continuously since 2017 following his arrest for his alleged links to the Gezi Park protests.

In a 2019 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights ordered his immediate release, finding his detention violated his rights and pursued an ulterior purpose, “namely to reduce him to silence as a human rights defender”, and could dissuade other human rights defenders. In 2022 the Court’s Grand Chamber confirmed that Türkiye has failed to fulfil its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a letter written from prison, read out by his wife Ayşe, Mr Kavala said he was honoured by the decision, and dedicated the Prize to his "fellow citizens unlawfully kept in prison". He said the award reminded him of the words of Václav Havel, writing to his wife Olga from prison in 1980: “The most important thing of all is not to lose hope. This does not mean closing one’s eyes to the horrors of the world. In fact, only those who have not lost faith and hope can see the horrors of the world with genuine clarity.”

Presenting the award, PACE President Tiny Kox, who chaired the selection panel, said: “Today, more than ever, it is of paramount importance to celebrate the women and men who, by their courage, determination and strength, show us the path to freedom. Their fight is an example for all of us.”

The two other shortlisted nominees were Polish human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender Justyna Wydrzynska and Ukrainian human rights activist Yevgeniy Zakharov, both of whom were present at the ceremony and received diplomas.

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 to Vladimir Kara-Murza (2022), Maria Kalesnikava (2021), Loujain Alhathloul (2020), 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).