Human rights activist Armando Valladares, who spent 22 years in Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s gulags for refusing to publicly post a placard supporting the tyrant, has been named the 2016 recipient of the Canterbury Medal, the highest honor bestowed by Atlas Network partner the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Freedom of conscience is one of the most fundamental forms of liberty, and the Becket Fund’s press release announcing the award highlights the brutal lengths to which oppressive regimes will go in order to suppress dissent by inspiring figures like Valladares.
“Valladares, who has been hailed as ‘heroic’ by Noble laureate Holocaust survivor and fellow Medalist Elie Wiesel, was arrested and imprisoned at 21 years of age for refusing to put up a placard that said: ‘I am with Fidel,’” the Becket Fund release explains. “He spent 22 years in prison for that simple act of dissent. Eight of those years he spent naked in solitary confinement in a windowless and mosquito-infested cell, where guards regularly doused him with buckets of human excrement. He was tortured with relentless beatings and endured several hunger strikes, one of which left him wheelchair bound for years. Despite all this, he began to write poetry, which his wife smuggled out and published to critical acclaim. She led an international campaign for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 1982 thanks to the intercession of French President Francois Mitterrand.”
Valladares has gone on to serve as a human rights ambassador to the United Nations and wrote a New York Times best-selling memoir about his time as a prisoner of conscience being held by Cuba’s communist leaders, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag. He will receive the award at a black-tie gala to be held in New York City on May 12.
The Canterbury Medal recognizes individuals who have demonstrated courage in the defense of religious liberty and is named for Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas Becket was martyred by the knights of King Henry II for his own defense of religious freedom.