Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Ales Byalyatski misses out on Sakharov Prize

Two Iranian activists, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film director Jafar Panahi, are this year's joint winners of the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. They were chosen by President Schulz and political group leaders on Friday morning.

"The award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Iranians Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi is a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own," Mr Schulz said. "I sincerely hope they will be able to come in person to Strasbourg to the European Parliament to collect their prize in December".

Nominated for the Sakharov Prize by Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and 82 other members of the European Parliament, the 50-year-old Byalyatski was shortlisted for the award earlier this month. Russian pank-group Pussy Riot was also included in the short-list. Currently, Russian girls, one of whom continues her fight for freedom of thought in Russia [she is at large], are in prison.

Ales Byalyatski misses out on Sakharov Prize

Jafar Panahi and Nasrin Sotoudeh. EP 2012/AFP

Nasrin Sotoudeh, born in 1963, is an Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate. She has represented opposition activists imprisoned following Iran's disputed June 2009 presidential elections, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and prisoners of conscience. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and has been held in solitary confinement.

Sotoudeh has two children. She recently started a hunger strike in protest against the state's harassment of her family.

Jafar Panahi, born in 1960, is an Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor. He first achieved international recognition with his film The White Balloon that won the Caméra d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. His films often focus on the hardships faced by children, the impoverished and women in Iran.

Sotoudeh and Panahi were nominated by the Socialists and Democrats, Liberals and Democrats and Greens/European Free Alliance groups as well as by José Ignacio Salafranca, Elmar Brok and 11 other MEPs.

Mr. Byalyatski, chairman of a human rights organization called Vyasna and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, was arrested in Minsk on August 4, 2011. On November 24, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on a charge of large-scale tax evasion.

The charge stemmed from information about his bank accounts abroad, which was thoughtlessly provided by authorities in Lithuania and Poland under interstate legal assistance agreements. During his trial, Mr. Byalyatski insisted that the money transferred by various foundations to his bank accounts abroad had been intended to finance Vyasna`s activities and therefore could not be viewed as his income subject to taxation.

Launched in 1988, the Sakharov Prize is awarded annually on or around December 10, the day on which the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists won the prize in 2004 and opposition politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich was awarded the prize in 2006.