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"Alternative Nobel’ human rights award goes to Snowden

Accused government whistleblower Edward Snowden (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)

US whistleblower Edward Snowden was among five winners of the Swedish human rights award, announced in Stockholm on Wednesday.

The decision to the honor former National Security Agency contractor might have cost the 2014 Right Livelihood Awards’ jury the ability to announce the winners from Swedish Foreign Office pressroom, a usual place for such statements since 1995, Foundation director Ole von Uexkull told AP.

Snowden, who has lived in Russia for over a year, shares his award with Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, which was first to beak the NSA leaks.

#EdwardSnowden Congratulations in receiving the prestigious @rlafoundation award

— William Gomes (@Wnicholasgomes) September 24, 2014

"The 2014 Right Livelihood Honorary Award goes to Edward Snowden for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights," the Stockholm-based foundation said in a statement.

The annual prize is awarded "to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today", and by them the foundation understands “courageous and effective work for human rights, freedom of the press, civil liberties and combatting climate change”.

Although the whistleblower would not receive the customary 500,000 kronor ($70,000) prize money, the foundation said it would "fund legal support for him".

In a statement, Rusbridger said he was "delighted" to share the award with Snowden because he thinks “he was a whistleblower who took considerable risks with his own personal freedom in order to tell society about things that people needed to know."

Edward Snowden, Alan Rusbridger, Asma Jahangir, Basil Fernando / AHRC, and Bill McKibben / are #RLA2014 Laureates!

— RightLivelihoodAward (@rlafoundation) September 24, 2014

Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahanger, Sri Lankan rights activist Basil Fernando and US environmentalist Bill McKibbben were the other three prize winners. They will receive their awards at a formal ceremony in the Swedish parliament on December 1.

Executive director of the award, which is often referred to as the "alternative Nobel prize", Ole von Uexkull said in the statement: “We want to send a message of urgent warning that these trends – illegal mass surveillance of ordinary citizens, the violation of human and civil rights, violent manifestations of religious fundamentalism, and the decline of the planet’s life-supporting systems – are very much upon us already.”

He also underlined the importance of the choice we have: “By courageous acts of civil disobedience in the public interest, through principled and undeterred journalism, … and by building social movements to resist the destruction of our natural environment, we can turn the tide and build our common future on the principles of freedom, justice, and respect for the Earth.”

The Right Livelihood Award was founded in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, a Swedish-German professional philatelist. His original idea was to establish a new prize within the framework of the Nobel Foundation, but his suggestion to create two new prizes – one for ecology and one for development – was rejected. So he sold his company to provide the initial funding of his own award.

This year there were 120 proposals from 53 countries. As of 2014, the award has been given to 158 people from 65 countries.


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