Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani education activist and Nobel Peace Prize hopeful, has won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She joins the ranks of Nelson Mandela, jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia and Kofi Annan and the United Nations, who have all won the award at some point since its founding in 1988.
"The European Parliament acknowledges the incredible strength of this young woman," said Martin Schulz, the president of the EU legislature. "Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected."
The Sakharov Prize is awarded in honor of Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Malala's win comes just before tomorrow morning's announcement of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, for which she is a frontrunner. Unlike the Nobels, which accepts nominations from former winners, professors, international courts and peace institutes, Sakharov contenders have to be nominated by one of the political groups within the parliament, or by 40 members of parliament. Malala was nominated by three major European political groups.
"It takes an exceptional human being to stand up to a regime such as the Pakistani Taliban and when that human being is a young 16-year-old girl then that bravery becomes breathtaking,” said Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal Democrat group that co-nominated Malala.
But while several people have taken to Twitter to congratulate the 16-year-old — including EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Neelie Kroes of the European Commission — others were disappointed that Edward Snowden, who was also shortlisted for the prize last month, didn't win. Stefania Maurizi of Italian news magazine L'Espresso tweeted "Though Sakharov Prize to #Malala great news,there is no doubt that Europe totally betrayed Edward #Snowden."