Russian lawyers linked to Pussy Riot win Norwegian rights prize
Russian rights group Agora, which played a key role in freeing one of the jailed members of punk protest band Pussy Riot, won Norway's prestigious Rafto Prize for rights defenders Thursday.
An Agora lawyer, Irina Khrunova, helped secure the release of Yekaterina Samutsevich, who was sentenced to two years in jail in 2012 for the feminist group's "punk prayer" protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's Orthodox cathedral.
"The award is a recognition of their relentless and professional work to defend the right to fair trial and other human rights in a Russia where organisations and individuals are subjected to increasing pressure from the country's authorities," Bergen-based Rafto Foundation said.
"More than 20 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, but hopes for a more democratic Russia are now beginning to fade."
The Agora Association -- a network of 35 lawyers across Russia -- was founded by human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov in 2005.
It provides legal help to victims -- mainly activists, bloggers and journalists -- of suspected abuses by the Russian authorities including the police, prisons and military.
The group was forced to turn down $20,000 (15,000 euros) in prize money, according to the Rafto foundation due to a 2012 law -- which Agora has challenged in the courts -- that requires organisations with international funding to register as "foreign agents".
"Russian authorities are actively using legislation to silence critics. In July 2014, Agora was labelled a 'foreign agent' by the Russian Department of Justice because they receive financial support from other countries and are allegedly engaged in political activity," the Rafto Foundation said in a statement.
"The situation for Russia's civil society is now precarious. The country's authorities are facing a cross road, where the question at stake is whether to continue in a anti-democratic direction or not," added Paulsen.
The annual Rafto award was founded in 1986 in memory of Norwegian economic history professor Thorolf Rafto, a longtime human rights activist.
The prize, which is often awarded to relatively unknown human rights defenders, will be presented on November 2 in the western Norwegian town of Bergen.
Four past Rafto Prize laureates -- Aung San Suu Kyi, Jose Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-Jung and Shirin Ebadi -- went on to win to Nobel Peace Prize, whose laureate for 2014 will be announced in Oslo on November 10.
© 2014 AFP