Fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden received a standing ovation Monday when he was honoured in absentia alongside four other winners of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament.
Unable to attend in person because of US warrants for his arrest, he appeared via a choppy video link from Russia, where he has asylum.
“This award recognizes the work of so many,” Snowden said, paying tribute to journalists, publishers, activists, and civil society members “who have put so much on the line.”
Snowden is wanted by the US government on espionage charges for exposing extensive telephone and internet data-collection programmes used by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
He said sacrifices made were worth making again as they were “about our rights, the societies we want to live in, the kind of government we want to have.”
The Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull created the Right Livelihood Award in 1980 “to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges.”
Award founder Jakob von Uexkull said Snowden’s prize would remain in Stockholm until Snowden could collect it in person. He noted that “Snowden was prevented from participating because of the risk it involves for him to leave Russia at the moment.”
Snowden was named an honorary co-winner of the award – often referred to as the “alternative Nobel Prize” – alongside Alan Rusbridger, the editor of Britain’s The Guardian newspaper. The latter played a key role in publishing Snowden’s leaked material.
The award was given “for [Snowden’s] courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights,” the jury said.
In his acceptance speech, Rusbridger said Snowden “opened our eyes to multiple, sometimes competing and clashing public interests – including those represented by corporations, civil libertarians, intelligence agencies, lawyers, journalists and politicians.”
As honorary co-winners, neither Snowden nor Rusbridger received any prize money.
Three other laureates each received 500,000 kronor (69,676 dollars) to support their ongoing work promoting human rights and combating climate change.
The trio were Pakistan-based lawyer Asma Jahangir; Sri Lanka-born Basil Fernando, former head of the Asian Human Rights Commission; and US climate activist Bill McKibben.
McKibben was recognized for raising awareness about climate change through books and the international climate campaign 350.org.
It helped mobilize 400,000 people onto the streets of New York in September to push the United Nations to do more on climate change. Similar protests were staged in hundreds of other cities.
“If there is enough pressure from the grassroots, then there will be more ambitious and more binding agreements than there would be otherwise,” McKibben told dpa shortly before accepting the prize.
One effective measure has been to get groups like pension funds, faith organizations like the World Council of Churches, universities and other institutions divest holdings linked to fossil fuels.
“The most significant moment came in September when the Rockefeller family announced they were divesting all their philanthropic holdings from the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “If the original oil fortune family now thinks it is both immoral and unwise to invest in fossil fuel, that sends a real signal.”
McKibben said similar divestments proved effective 30 years ago during the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. In his speech, he cited South African archbishop Desmond Tutu as saying climate change was the greatest human challenge of our time.
Jahangir was lauded for her efforts on behalf of vulnerable groups like children and religious minorities, despite “great personal risk.”
She set up a legal aid centre in 1986 and has also served the UN as a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions and on freedom of religion and belief.
Fernando received the accolade for “tireless and outstanding work” for human rights in Asia.
A total of 120 candidates from 53 countries were considered this year. The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honour those meeting “the human challenges of today’s world.”