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Europe

Cuban dissident receives EU human rights prize

Cuban activist Guillermo Farinas has been awarded the EU's Sakharov Prize for freedom of speech. Unable to attend, he slammed the Cuban regime in a recorded message as "totalitarian" and "savage".

Guillermo Farinas

Farinas was forced to miss the ceremony

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has been awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize.

Wednesday’s ceremony in the European parliament in Strasbourg, however, took place without the guest of honor: Farinas had not been given the necessary exit visa from the Cuban government to leave his country.

His absence during the ceremony was highlighted by an empty chair.

"The Sakharov prize is the symbol of the European parliament in our battle to have the human rights respected all over the world," Jerzy Buzek, president of the European parliament said in his opening speech.

"This empty chair, this empty seat that stands here next to me is also a symbol and also shows how important this prize is and how necessary it still remains that we raise our voices to protect all those who put their lives on line to fight for freedom."

A "savage" regime

Farinas on the phone during his hunger strike

The hunger strike lasted 135 days

Although barred from attending the ceremony in person, Farinas addressed the parliamentarians in a recorded message, slamming the Cuban regime as "totalitarian", "autocratic" and "savage".

"I accept the prize," he said, "because I feel I am a tiny part of the rebellious spirit of this people I am proud to belong to."

Farinas was awarded the prize in October for a hunger strike in the name of Cuban political prisoners earlier this year that lasted 135 days. He ended the hunger strike when it was announced that 52 prisoners who had been held since a 2003 political crackdown would be freed.

Still determined

Speaking in a telephone interview with Reuters news agency from his home in Santa Clara, Cuba, Farinas said missing the ceremony had not weakened his resolve.

"I'm going to continue in my battle for democracy in Cuba, whether they let me leave or don't let me leave," Farinas said.

The 48-year-old psychologist has held several hunger strikes and has spent a total of 11 years in prison.

Prestigious award

The Sakharov Prize is named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The Ladies in White celebrate winning the Sakharov Prize

The Ladies in White also had to celebrate at home in 2005

It has been awarded to world figures such as Nelson Mandela, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It is endowed with 50,000 euros ($65,000).

The award has been given to Cubans twice before. In 2002, dissident Oswaldo Paya was awarded the prize and allowed to attend the ceremony, but the Ladies in White - a group whose husbands are political prisoners in Cuba - were not allowed to attend the ceremony after winning in 2005.

Author: Matt Zuvela (Reuters, AFP)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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