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Positive news for Pussy Riot

The European Parliament included the Russian punk band Pussy Riot among its finalists for the European Union's annual Sakharov human rights prize on Tuesday.

Three members of the Pussy Riot band have been given a two-year prison sentence for hooliganism after they performed a "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral. The sentence provoked an international outcry that has embarrassed the government of President Vladimir Putin.

The other finalists are the imprisoned Belarusian human rights defender, Ales Belyatsky, and a pair of Iranians, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and movie director Jafar Panahi.

The winner of the EU's main human rights prize, named for the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, will be announced Dec. 12 in Strasbourg, France.

"Andrei Sakharov himself would be extremely pleased to see the recognition of these creative and courageous young women," said Green Europarliamentarian Werner Schulz, who nominated the band.

A European Parliament statement said that their sentencing to two years in prison focused "the world's attention on the unscrupulous restriction of civil rights and the absence of the rule of law in Russia."

Russian authorities heaved scorn on the prize in 2009 when it was given to three prominent Russian rights activists in recognition of the difficult conditions they faced.

The prize has been awarded since 1988, and previous winners include former South African President Nelson Mandela, East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao and Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya.

Almost by tradition, the prize which carries a $50,000 check, has chilled relations with the government of the recipient's country.

Most of the finalists this year are imprisoned.

Belyatsky, Belarus' leading human rights activist was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison late last year at a trial condemned by U.S. and EU officials as politically motivated.

Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian lawyer who has defended opposition activists, was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year.

And film director Panahi, who won awards at Cannes, Venice and other major film festivals, has been sentenced to six years in house arrest and a 20-year ban on filming after being convicted of "making propaganda" against Iran's ruling system.

The Canadian Press


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