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Three candidates shortlisted for the 2023 Václav Havel Prize

September 5, 2023


The selection panel of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, which rewards outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Europe and beyond, has today announced the shortlist for the 2023 Award. Meeting in Prague today, the panel – made up of independent figures from the world of human rights and chaired by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Tiny Kox – decided to shortlist the following three nominees, in alphabetical order:

Osman Kavala, Türkiye

The nominee is a human rights defender, philanthropist and civil activist in Türkiye who was arrested in October 2017 for his alleged links to the Gezi Park protests. The nominee has supported numerous civil society organisations since the early 1990s. Despite a 2019 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights ruling Mr Kavala’s detention to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and calling for his immediate release, he has been detained since 2017 and was sentenced in April 2022 to life in prison. In July 2022, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court confirmed that Türkiye has failed to fulfil its obligations under the Convention by not releasing Mr Kavala and held that the impugned measures against him were aimed at silencing him and dissuading other human rights defenders.

Justyna Wydrzynska, Poland

The nominee is a human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender from Poland, also defending the rights of marginalised and vulnerable populations. She is the founder of "Abortion Dream Team", an activist collective that has campaigned against Poland’s restrictive abortion laws since 2006. The collective offers training and counselling on how to obtain abortion care. The nominee has faced prosecution for carrying out her work and was sentenced to community service for assisting a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Yevgeniy Zakharov, Ukraine

The nominee is a well-known human rights activist in Ukraine. He has been actively defending human rights for over 50 years in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics, where he documented and disseminated information about the repression of prisoners of conscience. He is the founder of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, and the director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG). The nominee assists and promotes justice and reparations for political prisoners and other victims of human rights violations. In 2022, the nominee founded a coalition of NGOs called "Tribunal for Putin", which collects, verifies and stores evidence of war crimes.

Announcing the panel’s choice, the PACE President paid tribute to all defenders of human rights who, sometimes at the cost of their lives, stand firm to protect and promote fundamental freedoms and human rights. “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, and I am happy that the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize has celebrated their action since its creation ten years ago.”

The overall winner of the 2023 Prize is due to be announced at the opening of PACE’s Autumn plenary session in Strasbourg on 9 October. The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by PACE, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation. 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).


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