BRUSSELS — The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Europe’s most prestigious human rights award, to the democratic opposition in Venezuela on Thursday.
The announcement, made by Antonio Tajani, the Parliament’s president, before a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, was repeatedly interrupted by applause.
“Today we are supporting a nation’s freedom to struggle,” Mr. Tajani said. “We hereby express our full support for the National Assembly of Venezuela, the only democratically elected Parliament.”
For several years, Venezuela, an oil-producing nation, has been going through a harsh economic crisis as energy prices have dropped. President Nicolas Maduro’s government has also led a crackdown on opposition parties, their leaders and their supporters as part of a plan to consolidate power.
He has tried to close the country’s National Assembly to limit its power and influence, and has created a superseding, all-powerful constitutional assembly.
“The ruling party has steadily limited the rule of law of and the constitutional order, and in March 2017, the Supreme Court stripped the democratically elected National Assembly of legislative power,” a statement by the European Parliament said.
Hundreds of Venezuelans have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens been killed over the past year alone, European officials said. Scores of protesters were killed this year during months of street demonstrations against the Maduro government.
The official laureate is the “democratic opposition in Venezuela,” as represented by the country’s National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, and the political prisoners listed by Foro Penal, a human rights organization, Mr. Tajani said.
Mr. Borges will be invited to receive the prize, which comes with 50,000 euros, about $59,000, at a ceremony in Strasbourg this year.
Mr. Tajani pledged to protect rights and freedom of opinion within and outside Europe. He noted that on the same day, two activists had been freed by Turkey — in part because of pressure from the European Union.
“We want people who are fighting for human rights or freedom of opinion anywhere in the world to know that they can count on this parliament,” Mr. Tajani said.
The prize is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and political dissident, and it has been awarded every year since 1988.
Other finalists for this year’s prize were Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, an activist from Guatemala who fights to protect indigenous peoples from the expansion of agro-industry on their territory; and Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist and writer who has been arbitrarily detained by the Eritrean authorities since 2001.
Last year, the Sakharov Prize was awarded to Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two young Yazidi women who escaped captivity and sexual slavery under the Islamic State.