The heads of the Belarusian democracy movement will be awarded this year’s Charlemagne Prize. Together with Claudia Roth and Tatsiana Khomich, Libereco demands the release of laureate Maria Kolesnikova and all other over 1200 political prisoners in Belarus.

The International Charlemagne Prize will be awarded this year on 26 May to the heads of the Belarusian democracy movement: Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Zepkalo. The three courageous women are symbolic figures of the peaceful protest against dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

While Tikhanovskaya and Zepkalo had to leave Belarus, Kolesnikova has been in prison there since September 2020 and was sentenced to a draconian prison term of eleven years in an unfair trial behind closed doors.

Claudia Roth: Award is a signal far beyond Belarusian borders

Immediately after Maria Kolesnikova’s arrest and at the request of the German-Swiss human rights organisation Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights, Claudia Roth, long-time Vice President of the Bundestag and current Minister of State for Culture, had taken over a prisoner’s godparenthood for her. Since then, the Green politician has been campaigning for Kolesnikova’s release.

Roth congratulated the 40-year-old “from the bottom of my heart on this important award” and declared: “With Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Zepkalo, three strong and admirable democrats are receiving the prestigious Charlemagne Prize. Their award is an important sign for the culture of democracy far beyond the Belarusian borders. As the faces of the democracy movement in Belarus and throughout Europe, these courageous women fearlessly oppose dictator Lukashenko and resolutely fight for the rule of law, human rights, freedom and peace, for democracy. To them and to all Belarusians who, at great risk, stand up for democracy and justice in their country, goes my respect, admiration and full solidarity.”

Hoping for attention for 1200 more political prisoners in Belarus

Tatsiana Khomich is the sister of Maria Kolesnikova, she had to leave Belarus for exile in France. In the Coordination Council of the Belarusian Opposition, she campaigns for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. On the occasion of the award of the Charlemagne Prize, Khomich said: “I am very happy that Maria has received the prize. Maria’s voice is the voice of more than 1200 political prisoners who, like Maria, are now in Belarusian prisons. I hope that this attention will help Maria and many others to be released more quickly.”

Libereco had already launched the #WeStandBYyou solidarity campaign in July 2020, which has now seen more than 300 members of European parliaments campaigning for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. With an online petition, Libereco also demands the release of Kolesnikova and all other political prisoners in the EU neighbouring country.

“The awarding of the Charlemagne Prize shows that the world has not forgotten Belarus. Especially in these times marked by the Ukraine war, this is a great sign of hope for the people in Belarus. For a climate of fear prevails there. No one is safe from persecution, torture and imprisonment. Recently, opponents of the regime have even been threatened with the death penalty if they are charged with terrorism. We must therefore stand by the people in Belarus all the more,” says Lars Bünger, President of the Swiss section of Libereco.