Religion & Liberty Online

Venezuelan political prisoners awarded top EU human rights award

The EU has taken a symbolic stance against the worst human rights tragedy in South America, awarding its top human rights prize to the political prisoners and defiant opposition in Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela. The European Parliament announced the recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last Thursday, explicitly mentioning the socialist nation’s “political prisoners.”

Eugénio Lopes provides the details about the award, named for the famous Soviet dissident, in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic.

The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, voiced a surprisingly strong condemnation of the “dictator” Maduro during the announcement event. As Lopes describes, Tajani’s forthright description of President Maduro’s crimes elicited catcalls and gales of derisive laughter from the chamber’s far-Left parties (including Ireland’s Sinn Fein), which Tajani rebuffed.

The essay also quotes the strong condemnation offered by Guy Verhofstadt, who is coordinating the EU’s hardball response to Brexit. The EU promoted Venezuela’s democratically elected opposition and blasted the widespread deprivation, malnutrition, and repression Maduro is visiting upon his own people.

These economic dislocations are not the result of a downturn in the oil market, limitations within Venezuela itself, and certainly not a reflection of Venezuela’s hardworking citizens. They reflect the inherent contradictions and failures of Bolivarian socialism which was, until recently, the toast of the European (and American) Left. The political repression that follows economic collectivism is a byproduct of concentrating too much power over too many spheres of national life into too few hands. As individuals lose the economic means to support themselves, they turn to the government. Their request for the redistribution of wealth doubles as their petition for political oppression.

As Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs has documented time and again, political repression is the cue for the international Left to lose interest and deny the nation ever implemented “real” socialism.

Lopes, a former Acton Institute intern, writes that the facts on the ground make this EU decision all the more praiseworthy and inspirational:

Venezuela’s opposition heroically demonstrates its commitment to promoting justice, freedom, human rights and human dignity – among the core principles of Acton Institute. Prizes of this sort exhibit the important virtue of bestowing honor on the worthy. This award deserves the support and praise of those who honor liberty across the transatlantic sphere.

Finally, the EU deserves praise for offering an award in honor of Andrei Sakharov, a former Soviet dissident who drew attention to the repression of the first socialist Utopia in the 1970s and 1980s. Sakharov, a nuclear physicist who opposed the USSR’s nuclear arms policy, suffered continual harassment by the state police. In 1984 and 1985, Sakharov launched hunger strikes – which the state chose to end by kidnapping him, dragging him to a hospital, and force-feeding him in a process closer to torture than nurture. He died in 1989, shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, undoubtedly prodded by state persecution.

Read Lopes’ full essay here.

(Photo credit: © European Union 2017 – Source : EP. Used with permission.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout,, Issues & Insights, The Conservative,, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are and His views are his own.