Alexei Navalny seen in January 2021, before his imprisonment.

  • Alexei Navalny won the EU's top human rights prize over his efforts to challenge Putin.
  • Navalny was poisoned last August and subsequently thrown in prison.
  • He has continued to criticise Putin while behind bars.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday won the European Union's top human rights prize over his efforts to shine a light on corruption under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The award - the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought - is named after the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Past recipients of the prize include the late South African President Nelson Mandela and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Given he's in prison, Navalny is unlikely to be able to receive the $59,000 prize in person at the award ceremony in Strasbourg in mid-December.

Awarding Navalny the prestigious human rights prize marks a symbolic rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with the EU for years - particularly since Russia's unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014. Navalny is Putin's most prominent critic.

"Alexei @navalny is the winner of this year's #SakharovPrize. He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life. Today's prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release," David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, said in a tweet.

Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet era nerve agent Novichok last August while in Siberia, and almost died. He was taken to Germany for treatment not long after.

The anti-corruption campaigner returned to Moscow in January, and was promptly arrested. He was charged with violating the terms of his parole over a 2014 fraud conviction. This included missing parole meetings while he was hospitalized in Germany after being poisoned. Navalny in February was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, in a move widely regarded as politically motivated.

Putin, whose critics often end up dying in violent or mysterious ways, has been accused by leaders worldwide of orchestrating Navalny's poisoning. The Russian leader has denied any involvement. In March, the Biden administration slapped sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny's poisoning.

Navalny's imprisonment has also led to global condemnation, and prompted mass protests in Russia. He's suffered from health problems while behind bars, and went on a weekslong hunger strike earlier this year. The US has warned Putin that there will be severe consequences if Navalny dies while imprisoned.

In June, Navalny's top aide told Insider that Putin was "dumb" to put him in prison because it turned the opposition leader into a symbol for people to rally behind. Navalny has continued to criticise Putin while in prison, at one point denouncing the Russian president as a "naked king" clinging to power.

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