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Russian activists awarded European rights prize

Amnesty International welcomes the European Parliament decision to give the 2009 Sakharov prize for human rights to Russian activists Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Ludmila Alekseeva on behalf of Russian human rights organizations. "The prize is a recognition of the important work human rights activists are doing in Russia in exceptionally difficult circumstances and it comes at a very difficult time for them," said Nicola Duckworth from Amnesty International. The murder in July this year of Natalia Estemirova, a colleague of Oleg Orlov and Sergei Kovalev in the organization Memorial, brought worldwide attention to the risks human rights defenders face in Russia, especially in the North Caucasus. Sergei Kovalev, often called the "conscience of Russia", got involved in human rights in the late 1960s. He was a close ally and friend of Andrei Sakharov. He was sent to Soviet prison camps in 1974 and then later sent into internal exile for publicizing the cases of human rights prisoners. Kovalev was a founding member of the Moscow Amnesty International group. Ludmila Alexeyeva joined the Russian dissident community during the 1960s. She campaigned for fair trials of the arrested dissidents and their objective coverage in the media. After over 10 years living overseas, in 1996 she returned to Russia and became a head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organization. "This prize is an honour for me because it is in the name of Andrei Dmitrovich Sakharov, the spiritual leader of the human rights movement in Russia and simply a great authority in the field of defending human rights," Alexeyeva told Amnesty International. Speaking about the prize before the award, Oleg Orlov, the chairperson of Memorial told Amnesty International: "The Sakharov prize is an important recognition for our work. We are striving to achieve concrete results in the face of so much lawlessness. Sometimes, when we manage to save the lives of few people, it may not seem much and our colleagues may feel discouraged. Because of this such recognition is heartening. "In the past we thought that such prizes can protect us, and save the lives of our colleagues who work in dangerous conditions. But after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, we are concerned that no prizes and no fame can save the lives of human rights activists in Russia," said Oleg Orlov. Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and rights actvist, was murdered in 7 October 2006 in Moscow. For 21 years, the European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize, named after the dissident Soviet scientist, himself one of the founders of Memorial, to people who have dedicated their lives to defending human rights and mutual understanding. Former recipients include jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia, Salih Mahmoud Osman , a Sudanese lawyer who has championed the rights of people in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban human rights activist who has campaigned for democracy and the right of people in Cuba to choose their own government and Aung San Suu Kyi,  the leader of The National League for Democracy in Burma.