LONDON -- Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her advocacy of girls' education, on Thursday was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.
Malala, 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 today.
Malala 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, U.S. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, whose revelations about U.S. 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, 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."
After she was shot in October 2012, Malala was taken to Britain for emergency surgery. She lives with her family in Birmingham, England.
In July, she appeared before the United Nations, where she delivered an impassioned appeal for children's right to an education, and has attracted considerable media attention this week, after publishing her memoir, giving lengthy interviews to the BBC and ABC News, and appearing as a guest on "The Daily Show" with John Stewart. At public appearances, she is often seen alongside her father, Ziauddin, a school headmaster.
Though Malala is being lauded in the West, she is a more controversial figure in Pakistan, where right-wing critics accuse her of pandering to Western culture and political agendas. Few Pakistanis believe that it would be safe for her to return home right now, given threats against her life by Taliban militants, who regret their failure to kill her.
The Sakharov Prize was established in 1988 in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Previous winners include former South African President Nelson Mandela and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Malala also captured the imagination of the betting public. Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaker, listed her Thursday as the second favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize, behind Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, who has treated women who were gang-raped during the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. British bookmaker William Hill listed her as the favorite, at odds of 4-6, leading a field of contenders that includes NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden, at 20-1, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, at 25-1.
The award Thursday came six days after Malala was announced as winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, named for the Russian journalist and Kremlin critic 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.
First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM