STRASBOURG: Film-maker Jafar Panahi and rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh of Iran have won the European Parliament's Sakharov rights prize, lawmakers said in a series of tweeted messages Friday.
The Iranian pair were chosen for the prestigious 50,000-euro ($65,000) award ahead of the jailed members of Russian all-girl punk band Pussy Riot and Belarus dissident Ales Beliatsky.
The shortlist for the prize, which recognises those who promote human rights and democratic values, was notable in that all the nominees bar Panahi are currently behind bars.
Jointly nominated, Panahi is free but faces a six-year sentence and had been banned from making more films while Sotoudeh is serving an 11-year sentence,
Last year, Panahi's "This Is Not A Film" had to be smuggled out in a USB key inside a cake to be screened at the Cannes film festival.
Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced in August to two years in a labour camp for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after bursting into an Orthodox cathedral to stage protest songs against Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Russia slammed European lawmakers for nominating the punk musicians for the prize on the grounds it was interference with Russian government work.
Earlier this month, a Russian appeals court unexpectedly ordered the release of Samutsevich in what many observers believe was an attempt to split the tight-knit band.
Belarus activist Beliatsky, who headed the Vyasna (Spring) human rights organisation, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in a prison camp on tax evasion charges in November and his property confiscated.
Vyasna was instrumental through 2011 in gathering funds to help activists and politicians jailed in the crackdown after the December 2010 presidential election and the mass protest that followed.
It had been banned by Belarussian authorities and operated out of Lithuania and Poland, where it held its bank accounts. Beliatsky's conviction was made possible after the two countries handed over his bank information to Minsk.
The case was condemned by the European Union, further isolating President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country for the past 18 years.