Pakistani Student Wins Top European Human Rights Award

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LONDON -- Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her advocacy of girls' education, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on Thursday by the European Parliament.

Ms. Yousafzai, 16, became a global symbol of bravery after she was attacked on her way home from school in the Swat Valley, in northwestern Pakistan, a year ago. She is seen as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, due to be announced Friday, although the identity of the peace laureate is notoriously hard to forecast.

Ms. Yousafzai was chosen as the winner of the $65,000 Sakharov Prize by the heads of the political groupings in the 766-member European Parliament. She was a less contentious choice for the prize than another nominee on the short list, Edward J. Snowden, the American intelligence contractor whose revelations about American and British electronic surveillance have angered those governments.

"By awarding the Sakharov Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the European Parliament acknowledges the incredible strength of this young woman," Martin Schulz, the president of the Parliament, said in a statement issued in Strasbourg, France. "Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected."

After she was shot in October 2012, Ms. Yousafzai was taken to Britain for emergency surgery. She has recovered well from her injuries and lives with her family in Birmingham, England.

She appeared before the United Nations in July, where she delivered an impassioned appeal for children's right to an education, and has attracted considerable media attention this week, when she published a memoir, gave lengthy interviews to the BBC and ABC News, and was a guest on "The Daily Show."

At public appearances she is often seen alongside her father, Ziauddin, a school headmaster who played a central role in thrusting his articulate young daughter into the spotlight from an early age.

Though Ms. Yousafzai is being lauded in the West, she is a more controversial figure at home in Pakistan, where right-wing critics accuse her of pandering to Western culture and political agendas. Few Pakistanis believe it would be safe for Ms. Yousafzai to return home right now, given the repeated threats against her life by Taliban militants who regret their failure to kill her a year ago.

The Sakharov Prize was established in 1988 in honor of the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general.

Ms. Yousafzai also captured the imagination of the betting public. Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaker, listed her on Thursday as the second favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize, behind Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who has treated women who were gang-raped during the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A British bookmaker, William Hill, listed her as the favorite, at odds of 4 to 6, leading a field of contenders that includes Mr. Snowden at 20 to 1, and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, at 25 to 1.

The award on Thursday came six days after Ms. Yousafzai was announced as the winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, named for the Russian journalist and critic of the Kremlin who worked to uncover abuses in Chechnya and was fatally shot in her apartment building in 2006. That prize is awarded by a group called Reach All Women in War to a woman who works to promote human rights.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 10, 2013 2:01 PM


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