Jailed Belarusian activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian organisation Memorial and Ukrainian group Center for Civil Liberties won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, highlighting the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.
The prize will be seen by many as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is celebrating his 70th birthday on Friday, and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, making it one of the most politically contentious in decades.
The award, the first since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, has echoes of the Cold War era, when prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn won Nobels for peace or literature, according to Reuters.
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbour countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine," said Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen.
She called on Belarus to release Byalyatski from prison and said the prize was not against Putin.
"We always give the prize for something and to something and not against someone," she told reporters.
Belarusian security police in July last year raided offices and homes of lawyers and human rights activists, detaining Byalyatski and others in a new crackdown on opponents of Lukashenko.
Authorities had moved to shut down non-state media outlets and human rights groups after mass protests the previous August against a presidential election the opposition said was rigged.
"The (Nobel) Committee is sending a message that political freedoms, human rights and active civil society are part of peace," Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters.
The prize will boost morale for Byalyatski and strengthen the hand of the Center for Civil Liberties, an independent Ukrainian human rights organisation, which is also focused on fighting corruption, he said.
"Although Memorial has been closed in Russia, it lives on as an idea that it's right to criticize power and that facts and history matter," Smith added.
Memorial said on Friday that winning the award was a recognition of its human rights work and of colleagues who continue to suffer "unspeakable attacks and reprisals" in Russia.
Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties said it was proud to win.
"Morning with good news. We are proud," it wrote on Twitter.
The award was also recognition for the whole Belarusian people in standing up to Lukashenko, opposition spokesman Franak Viacorka said.
He told Reuters that Byalyatski was jailed in "inhumane" conditions and hoped the prize would lead to his release.
"That's a huge sign of recognition for the Belarusian people because the Belarusian people deserve it for their bravery in countering the tyranny of Lukashenko .... they deserve all the prizes in the world," said Viacorka, chief of staff to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is a close friend of Byalyatski.
The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns, or about $900,000, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.
"The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.
"They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy."