A Belarusian pro-democracy campaigner and an imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer have been awarded the Right Livelihood Award, a prize sometimes called the “alternative Nobel,” along with activists from the United States and Nicaragua.
The Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Foundation on October 1 cited human rights activist Ales Byalyatski and his Vyasna (Spring) nongovernmental organization “for their resolute struggle for the realization of democracy and human rights in Belarus.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has defended Iranian activists, opposition politicians, and women prosecuted for removing their head scarves in public, was given the award “for her fearless activism, at great personal risk, to promote political freedoms and human rights in Iran.”
Byalyatski, 58, was convicted of tax evasion in 2011 and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison following a trial criticized by Western governments and human rights groups as politically motivated. He was released ahead of schedule in 2014.
Vyasna, which Byalyatski founded in 1996 to assist political prisoners, has provided legal assistance to thousands of Belarusian detained or imprisoned for challenging Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule following a presidential election in August that the West and the opposition say was rigged.
Byalyatski called the award “a sign of moral support for all Belarusians who are striving for democratic change.”
The activist was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and received a number of international awards while imprisoned.
The 57-year-old Sotoudeh was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to a total of 38 ½ years in prison and 148 lashes over her defense of political prisoners, including women protesting the compulsory hijab law.
Earlier this month, she was transferred from a prison cell to a hospital north of Tehran following a hunger strike for better prison conditions and the release of political prisoners.
Days later, she was taken back to Tehran’s Evin prison and ended her hunger strike due to deteriorating health, according to her husband.
The 2020 Right Livelihood Award was also given to U.S. civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson “for his inspiring endeavor to reform the U.S. criminal justice system and advance racial reconciliation in the face of historic trauma.”
Rights and environmental activist Lottie Cunningham Wren of Nicaragua was also named “for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder.”
The award winners will each receive prize money of 1 million kronor ($110,100) and will be honored during a virtual award ceremony on December 3.
The annual Right Livelihood Award, which was created in 1980, honors efforts that the prize founder, Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.