Jailed Russian opposition leader Navalny wins top EU prize

Jailed Russian opposition leader Navalny wins top EU prize

BRUSSELS, -- President Vladimir Putin's chief critic Alexei Navalny was imprisoned and received the top European Union human rights prize.

The leaders of the European Parliament chose the Russian politician to receive the Sakharov Prize, in open criticism of Moscow. Others were a group made up of Afghan women and Jeanine Anez, a former interim president and Bolivian politician.

In a tweet, the EPP Christian Democrat group in parliament announced its decision.

"Mr. Putin, free Alexei Navalny. It said that Europe demands his freedom, as well as all political prisoners.

Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent while on a Russian domestic flight. After receiving treatment in Germany and recovering, Navalny returned to Russia, where he was quickly arrested and sentenced.

The recognition of Navalny with the human rights award will further hurt relations between Russia and the 27-nation bloc. They have been in decline for many years, particularly after Moscow's 2014 annexe of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Russia's treatment for Navalny only made matters worse. The EU has called for his unconditional and immediate release from what it considers a politically motivated prison and said that it holds Moscow accountable for his well-being.

Six Russian officials were sanctioned by the EU last year for their involvement in the poisoning of Navalny. Russia denies any involvement.

The prize of 50,000 euros ($582,000) will be presented at the December 15th session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

A strong contender was also the group of Afghan women, which includes human rights activists as well as a journalist and cultural leaders. Since the Taliban took control in August, the fate of Afghan women has been front and center.

Despite their initial promises to respect the rights of women and especially education, the Taliban have been criticised by the United Nations for not keeping to these commitments.