The Russian activist Ildar Dadin has been awarded the Boris Nemtsov Prize, established to honor those fighting for democratic values in Russia. Dadin was sentenced to a prison term for staging anti-government protests.
Ildar Dadin is a "courageous citizen, who has broken the wheels of a huge government machine meant for those obedient and silent": This is how the Russian politician and publisher Lev Schlossberg, who received the Boris Nemtsov Prize last year, described this year's winner.
"Dadin chose to lose his personal freedom in order to fight against the more universal lack of freedom," added Schlossberg at the ceremony in Bonn on Monday evening.
Dadin and four other finalists, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, had been shortlisted following an online public vote organized by Russia's liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
The winner was chosen by the Council of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, established by Nemtsov's daughter, DW-reporter and anchor Zhanna Nemtsova.
The other finalists included the journalist and human rights activist Zoya Svetova, the imprisoned activist Sergei Mokhnatkin and Maksom Losev, a schoolboy who had organized an anti-corruption demonstration in his hometown of Bryansk in late March.
The Boris Nemtsov Prize, named after the Russian opposition politician who was killed near the Kremlin in February 2015, was established last year. In 2017 and 2016, the award ceremony took place at Deutsche Welle in Bonn.
"At all times, there are people who become symbols of resistance against the authoritarian system," said Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Alexei Navalny and the executive director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation. He fled Russia following accusations of embezzlement, and was granted political asylum in the UK. Ashurkov told DW that Dadin had become such a symbol during the "new authoritarian time" in Russia, "representing the people."
Who is Ildar Dadin?
Ildar Dadin, a former security guard, quit his job to become a civil rights activist. He was the first and only prisoner convicted under a controversial new law that foresees a prison term of up to five years for multiple violations of public assembly regulations, such as unsanctioned protests.
In December 2015, Dadin received a three-year prison term after staging one-man protests targeting the Kremlin. The sentence was later reduced to two years and six months. Before his detention, the activist had been repeatedly spotted near Red Square in Moscow holding banners with slogans such as: "Putin - the shame of Russia," or "Putin, leave Ukraine alone." Amnesty International called Dadin's sentence "a shocking and cynical attack on freedom of expression." The organization also suggested that Russian authorities were using the new regulation "to fast-track peaceful protests to prison."
In November 2016, Dadin secretly sent a letter to his wife from the penal colony in Karelia, in which he accused its staff and administration of beatings and torture. The letter was later published by Russian media. In February 2017, Russia's Constitutional Court ruled that Dadin's sentence must be reconsidered as not corresponding with the rules of procedure. The court also decided that the law under which Dadin had been convicted should be amended. The activist was released from prison shortly after the ruling.
Solidarity with Russian protesters
Not having obtained the necessary travel documents, Dadin wasn't able to attend the award ceremony in Bonn. Human rights activist Sergei Davidis received the prize on his behalf. In a video message recorded for the ceremony, Dadin says he keeps fighting for the rule of law and human rights in Russia, adding that, to him, Boris Nemtsov is an "example of courage and fortitude."
At the award ceremony in Bonn, the participants expressed their solidarity with the Russian protesters who took to the streets on Monday. Lev Schlossberg underlined that the rift between Russian citizens and the government in Moscow was growing. "We have lived through another year without freedom," he said, adding that the citizens and the authorities in Russia don't trust each other.
"It has a symbolic dimension that this prize, which honors freedom, was being awarded on the day when tens of thousands of people across Russia took to the streets and paid for that with their freedom," Vladimir Ashurkov told DW. His boss, Alexei Navalny, was detained at the entrance door of his home in Moscow, before he could even join the protest. According to the police, the opposition leader was detained for calling on people to participate in an unsanctioned demonstration on Tverskaya Street near the Kremlin. Late in the evening, the court sentenced him to 30 days of arrest.