Former Belarus presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has urged the EU to step up its support for protesters in her country as she picked up a human rights prize on behalf of the opposition movement.
She held aloft photographs of Belarusians who have rallied against President Alexander Lukashenko, protesters who have often been detained and beaten by security forces.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya dedicated the award to them and appealed to the 27-nation bloc to be braver in its actions.
“Without a free Belarus, Europe is not fully free either,” she said as she collected the Sakharov Prize on behalf of the Belarus opposition.
“We ask Europe and the whole world to stand with Belarus.”
Speaking in English, she told politicians in Brussels: “Standing for democracy and human rights is not interference but it is duty of each self-respecting country.
“Your solidarity and your voice are important, but it is actions that matter.”
Mass protests have gripped Belarus since official results from the August 9 presidential election gave Mr Lukashenko a landslide victory over Ms Tsikhanouskaya and a sixth term in office.
She and her supporters refused to recognise the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud.
Some poll workers came forward to detail how the election was rigged in their areas.
The EU also refuses to recognise the results and has imposed sanctions on Mr Lukashenko and several of his associates.
Belarus authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people.
Police have used stun grenades, tear gas and truncheons to disperse the rallies. Mass detentions have continued.
According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began and thousands were brutally beaten.
Four people are reported to have died.
In a speech punctuated by applause, Ms Tsikhanouskaya thanked EU politicians for the recognition implicit in the prize, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and created in 1988 to honour individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.
She said: “What is a better recognition that we are free thinkers?
“What is a better motivation for us to keep going?
“We are bound to win, and we will win.”
European Parliament President David Sassoli paid tribute to the Belarus opposition.
He said: “We see your courage. We can see the courage of women.
“We see your suffering. We see the unspeakable abuses. We see the violence.
“Your aspiration and determination to live in a democratic country inspires us.”
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