Jailed Belarusian opponent Kolesnikova wins European rights award

FILE PHOTO: Politician and representative of the Coordination Council for members of the Belarusian opposition Maria Kolesnikova attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - Jailed Belarusian opposition leader and activist Maria Kolesnikova on Monday won the ninth Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize which honours outstanding civil society action in the defence of human rights.

Kolesnikova's sister Tatsiana Khomich attended a ceremony on the activist's behalf on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of mass street protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year, was sentenced in early September to 11 years in prison, leading to an outcry from Western countries.

The United States condemned at the time the "politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing" of Belarusian opposition figures Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak.

"We must support the Belarusian people", Khomich said after accepting the award on Kolesnikova's behalf.

"Hundreds of political prisoners are kept in Belarusian jails in awful conditions under false politically motivated accusations", she said.

Lukashenko faced the biggest protests of his 27-year rule last year, but weathered them with support from Russia.

(Writing by Matthieu Protard; editing by Grant McCool)

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