The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament as a means to honour individuals or organisations who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedom of thought. A shortlist of nominees is drawn up by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Development Committee, with the winner announced in October. As of 2010, the prize is accompanied by a monetary award of €50,000.
The first prize was awarded jointly to South African Nelson Mandela and Russian Anatoly Marchenko. The most recent award, in 2012, was given to two Iranian dissidents, Jafar Panahi and Nasrin Sotoudeh. The prize has also been awarded to different organisations throughout its history, the first being the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (1992).
The Sakharov Prize is usually awarded annually on or around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, also celebrated as Human Rights Day.
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“Then, though I prize my friends, I cannot afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I lose my own. It would indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this lofty seeking, this spiritual astronomy, or search of stars, and come down to warm sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall mourn always the vanishing of my mighty gods.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)