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Malala Yousafzai, Edward Snowden nominated for EU human rights award

Malala Yousafzai and Edward Snowden are among seven nominees for the European Union's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Photos by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images and The Guardian via Getty Images

VANCOUVER – A Pakistani girl who defied Taliban oppression and survived a murder attempt by the militant group and the man who blew the lid off the U.S. government’s secret surveillance program are both contenders for a top human rights award.

The European Union has named Malala Yousafzai and Edward Snowden as nominees for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award named for Soviet dissident and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov.

The award, the winner of which will be announced next month, comes with a €50,000 monetary prize.

Yousafazai became an advocate for female education in 2009, at the the age of 11, after she began blogging for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban rule in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and an edict banning girls from going to school.

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After Yousafzai won a National Peace Award in Pakistan and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, the Taliban tried to silence her.

A gunman shot her in the head on Oct. 9, 2012. The shooting sparked international outrage, but her survival served to further her cause.

She has continued to speak out about children’s rights and even addressed the issue before the United Nations in July of this year following her recovery. The UN declared her 16th birthday on July 12, as “Malala Day.”

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Three political organizations in the European Parliament jointly nominated Yousafzai for the Sakharov award: the European People’s Party group, the Socialists & Democrats group and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group. She was also nominated by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

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The announcement Monday evening also preceded another accolade for her work. Amnesty International named Yousafzai as one of two recipients of this year’s Ambassador of Conscience Award, presented Tuesday evening in Dublin.

“I am truly honoured to receive this award and would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that there are many millions of children like me across the world who fight every single day for their right to go to school,” Yousafzai said in response to the award. “I hope that by working together we will one day realise our dream of education for every child, in every corner of the world.”

The attention Yousafzai has garnered in the past year has a oddsmakers hedging their bets she’ll be this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Whistleblower Snowden’s nomination for the Sakharov award is in response to leaking information about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, in a series of articles published by the Guardian in June of this year.

The former security contractor revealed details about NSA telecommunications surveillance and data mining programs, which monitored not only U.S. citizens but heads of foreign governments and even the United Nations.

The revelations led to the U.S. government charging Snowden with espionage. He is currently in Russia, where the government granted him temporary asylum.

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Snowden’s nomination came from the European United Left-Nordic Green Left group and the Greens-European Free Alliance.

There are seven nominations, in total, for the Sakharov award.

At a joint meeting on Monday, the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Development committees and the Human Rights Subcommittee also selected nominees including: Ethiopian journalists Reeyot Alemu And Eskinder Nega, jailed for criticizing the Ethiopian government’s persecution of journalists; The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery; jailed Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky,”arrested on 25 October 2003, after calling on President Putin to account for systemic corruption and advocating an independent judicial system and respect for the rule of law”; Belorussian political prisoners Ales Bialatski, Eduard Lobau and Mykola Statkevich; and the “Standing Man” protesters from Turkey’s Taksim Square demonstrations in June of this year.

The Sakharov award has been handed out since 1988, when Nelson Mandela shared the inaugural prize with late Anatoly Marchenko. Other recipients include Aung San Suu Kyi, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Reporters Without Borders and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The award will be handed out at a ceremony in Strasboug on Nov. 20.

*With files from The Associated Press

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