Malala Yousafzai gets EU’s Sakharov human rights prize

BBC News, November 20, 2013

Pakistani schoolgirl and campaigner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, has received the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize at a ceremony in Strasbourg.

In a speech she dedicated the award to “the unsung heroes of Pakistan” and to human rights campaigners worldwide.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz presented the award.

The 16-year-old activist was shot a year ago after campaigning for better rights for girls in Pakistan.

The Sakharov Prize for free speech is awarded by the European Parliament annually in memory of Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The 50,000 euro ($65,000) prize is considered Europe’s top human rights award.

“I am hopeful the European Parliament will look beyond Europe to the suffering countries where people are still deprived of their basic rights, their freedom of thought is suppressed, freedom of speech is enchained,” Ms Yousafzai said.

“Many children have no food to eat, no water to drink and children are starving for education. It is alarming that 57 million children are deprived of education… this must shake our conscience.”

She began her speech with a famous quote often attributed to the 18th Century French philosopher Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

She said children in countries such as Pakistan “do not want an iPhone, a PlayStation or chocolates, they just want a book and a pen”.

MEPs gave her a standing ovation.

‘Global icon’

More than 20 former laureates attended the ceremony, a parliament spokesman said. Malala Yousafzai is the 25th laureate.

Mr Schulz called her “a global icon” and told her “you have given hope to millions of children”.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that your dream becomes a reality,” he said, referring to her ambition to spread free education to boys and girls everywhere.

He also praised her father for “not locking her away, and giving her freedom”.

Malala rose to prominence in 2009 after writing a blog anonymously for the BBC Urdu service about her life under Taliban rule and the lack of education for girls.

She lived in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and her name became internationally known after the Pakistan army pushed the Taliban out of the area in 2009.

The Taliban’s Islamist doctrine puts harsh restrictions on women’s rights and one of the militants shot her as she was riding in a bus with school friends.

She joins a distinguished list of winners of the Sakharov Prize that includes Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.