Arab Spring activists awarded Europe's Sakharov prize

Mohammed Bouazizi in his hospital bed Mohamed Bouazizi's protest eventually toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

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Five Arab Spring activists have won the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

The laureates include Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia, whose death in January helped to kickstart the Arab Spring.

He set himself alight last December in protest at his treatment by the authorities under the rule of deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The prize, named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, carries an award of 50,000 euros (£43,463).

Other laureates included Egypt's Asmaa Mahfouz, a founder of the 6 April youth movement; Libyan dissident Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Senussi; and two Syrians who are part of the current uprising in their country, lawyer Razan Zeitouneh and cartoonist Ali Farzat.

Ms Mahfouz's online call to freedom, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, helped inspire the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square which led to the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

She was arrested on charges of defaming the military rulers who took power following Mr Mubarak's departure, but the charges were later dropped after protests.

Mr Senussi spent 31 years in prison for opposing Muammar Gaddafi.

Mr Zeitouneh is one of the leaders of the committees behind the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Farzat is a renowned Syrian cartoonist who was badly beaten by security forces in August, in an assault which broke both his hands.

The Sakharov prize has been awarded by the European Parliament since 1988 to individuals or organisations that have made a significant contribution to the struggle for human rights and democracy.

Past winners include South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, and former UN chief Kofi Annan.

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