Twenty-four-year old Antonietta Ledezma, whose father now faces 26 years in prison under charges of "conspiracy," and Julieta Lopez, the aunt of Leopoldo, accepted the awards at a major ceremony on Tuesday, February 23, 2016, and addressed a packed crowd of hundreds of human rights activists, UN diplomats, and journalists from around the world attending the 8th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
Ledezma and Lopez were chosen “for inspiring the world with their extraordinary courage in the defense of liberty and universal human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, a co-organizer of the conference together with Liberal International, Human Rights Foundation, and more than 20 other human rights groups.
Last year’s 2015 Geneva Summit Courage Award went to imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, and in 2013 it went to blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng.
Ledezma was arrested last year in a violent police raid on his office, and thrown into prison. For medical reasons he is now under house arrest. The politically-motivated charges were only filed this week.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced last year to 13 years in prison on trumped-up charges. Last week marked two years that he has been behind bars, under cruel conditions.
Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature has just declared an amnesty for all political prisoners, however this was rejected by Maduro. Julieta Lopez, aunt of Leopoldo, accepted on his behalf.
After accepting the award on Tuesday, Antonietta called the mayor “a loving father, a loving friend, who is today illegally arrested in Venezuela.”
I want to share with you how my life changed forever. 120 armed policemen smashed into my father’s office without a warrant. Was this an arrest? Was this a kidnapping? We didn’t know what was happening. For the longest 7 hours of my life, I didn’t know if my father was being tortured, if my father was even alive. This has been a terrible year for myself and for my family. We were followed, we were threatened – but that wasn’t reason enough for us to shut down. I decided to choose courage over fear. I am the voice of the 77 political prisoners in Venezuela. I am the voice of the people who have to line up to feed themselves. Chavez and Maduro left a legacy of hatred in my country. They destroyed my country.
"Leopoldo is honored to have been selected for this prestigious award, given by 25 human rights groups who will be assembling at the United Nations in Geneva, and to accept it on behalf of all of Venezuela’s political prisoners, who are currently being held illegally and in very difficult conditions," said Lilian Tintori, the wife of Lopez. "I hope this will put a spotlight on the systematic persecution of those who have dared to defy the regime and defend freedom through democratic means and will increase pressure on the Maduro regime to stop persecuting political opponents and free all political prisoners," added Tintori.
Geneva Summit seeks to influence foreign ministers days before they gather for 10th anniversary of UN Human Rights Council.
The 2-day Geneva Summit featured presentations by top-name activists, former political prisoners and victims from North Korea, China, Russia, Iran and many other human rights hotspots, with the aim of placing key issues on the global agenda days before UN chief Ban Ki-moon and numerous foreign ministers gather across the street on Monday to open the 10th anniversary session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The speakers’ compelling and vivid testimonies pressed UNHRC delegates not to allow politics to override the cries of human rights victims. Speakers included:
· Svitlana Zalishchuk, Ukrainian MP and key figure in 2013 EuroMaidan movement
· Yang Jianli, Former Chinese political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square massacre
· Vian Dakhil, Iraq's only female Yazidi MP and champion of ISIS victims
· Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, German psychologist who treats female ISIS victims
· Ensaf Haidar, Wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (winner of 2015 Geneva Summit Courage Award)
· Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada 2015, advocate for human rights in China
· Jigme Golog, Tibetan monk and filmmaker recently released from jail
· Darya Safai, Campaigner for Iranian women's rights
· Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Turkish human rights lawyer & columnist
· Daniel Mekonnen, Exiled Eritrean human rights lawyer and scholar
· Lee Young-guk, Bodyguard to former North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il who fled to South Korea
· Rosa Maria Paya, Cuban human rights activist and daughter of late dissident Oswaldo Paya
· Polina Nemirovskaia, Russian human rights activist
· Joan Hoey, Editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index
· Lord David Trimble, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former First Minister of Northern Ireland
· Christopher Walker, VP, National Endowment for Democracy
· Irwin Cotler, Former Canadian Minister of Justice and lawyer for political prisoners