As his attorneys prepare to file an appeal with Belarusian authorities later this week, opposition leader Aleksandr Lukashenko announced Monday that he won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, a human rights award worth $70,000.
Lukashenko’s announcement comes days after the United States sanctioned the 71-year-old authoritarian leader over his crackdown on human rights and his crackdown on dissent.
“I am honored to receive this award from the world community, and will use the proceeds to help cleanse my conscience,” Lukashenko said, according to Reuters.
The Sakharov prize is named for Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov. The anti-Communist scientist spoke out against mass internees in the Gulag and the communist ideology, eventually being exiled to Russia for his role. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan awarded Sakharov the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Sakharov, a man of uncompromising principle, always had a wish to help more people,” Lukashenko said. “He wished for his children to grow up in a more humane world. And so, after his death, the Sakharov Foundation took up his cause.”
“This prize is not about me,” he added. “But, simply put, it’s about those who are killed because they had the wrong political opinions, who are illegally detained and executed, who disappear and are subsequently brutalized and murdered.”
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since 1994, and has been the target of several U.S. sanctions and boycotts over his crackdown on dissent and free speech. Most notably, in 2006, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Lukashenko’s government over a ban on the popular Belarusian opposition party, which was disbanded.
Since then, Belarus has been blacklisted by the EU, USA, Norway, Australia, Japan, and The Netherlands. Lukashenko and his brother Alexei have both been on European Union sanctions list, which bans individuals from traveling to or doing business with the EU.
A Belarus court sentenced political leader Andrei Sannikov, who is also a candidate for president in next year’s election, to 11 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 for attempting to use a fake passport to travel to Denmark in March.
“The European Union believes that the arbitrary imposition of travel and financial sanctions to impede foreign participation in elections and political life in Belarus risks increasing repression and encouraging dictators and strongmen,” a spokesperson from the European Commission, which represents the EU member states, told Fox News last month.
“EU sanctions are targeting persons of the Lukashenko regime, but also ensuring that ‘regime stooges’ like Sannikov cannot access EU financial assistance and benefits,” the spokesperson said.
A number of other Belarusians have also been sentenced over human rights violations. For example, in October 2017, Andrei Kolechnik, an independent social and political reporter, was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The U.S. State Department said last year that Belarus is “worse than anywhere else in the former Soviet Union or Eurasia.”
According to the independent Belarusian human rights group Sova, rights violations include the imprisonment of journalists, political dissidents, and human rights activists, as well as discrimination against ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
“In the space of only four days, the citizens of Belarus lost their cherished liberty and independence when the Supreme Court took a brave decision to uphold the controversial ban on the [political opposition party] Minsk 1980’s Movement,” the Sova statement said.
The Belarusian government has denied providing state-funded physical or psychological assistance to prisoners, but prison activists told Sova that such assistance does in fact take place.