The European Parliament awarded its annual human rights prize on Thursday to Guillermo Farinas, the Cuban dissident whose 134-day hunger strike helped draw attention to the plight of political dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent.
Cuba began freeing the 52 political prisoners earlier this year after an agreement ironed out with the help of the Roman Catholic Church, prompting Farinas to end his protest.
A 48-year-old psychologist and freelance journalist, he has spent more than 11 years in prison himself for a variety of offenses, though he was not behind bars during the hunger strike. He decided to launch his protest after the death of a jailed political prisoner following a long hunger strike.
Cuba's government considers him a common criminal paid for by Cuba's enemies in Washington, and notes that some of his legal troubles include an assault on a co-worker and other violent behavior. Farinas says all the charges are linked to his activism.
Reached by telephone at his humble home in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, Farinas said the award sent a strong signal to the government in Havana.
"The award is a very direct message to Cuba's leaders, who have done so little" to respect human rights, he said.
Farinas warned he will begin another hunger strike if the Cuban government does not fulfill its July 8 pledge to free all 52 political prisoners jailed in 2003 within four months. To date, 39 have accepted exile in Spain in return for their freedom. At least some of the remaining 13 appear to be holding out because they do not want to leave Cuba.
The European Parliament said it will invite Farinas to come to Strasbourg on Dec. 15 to collect the assembly's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The prize carries a cash award of euro50,000 ($69,205).
The prize is bound to rile Havana's communist leaders and complicate efforts to improve their relations with Europe that have been strained since the 2003 crackdown on dissent.
Cuba's leaders are already angry over the recent decision to award the Nobel Prize for literature to Mario Vargas Llosa, the Chilean author whose disdain for Fidel and Raul Castro is well-known, and the Peace Prize to a jailed pro-democracy activist in China, an important Cuban ally.
Previous winners of the Sakharov Prize include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Europe's top human-rights prize was awarded twice before to Cubans: in 2002 to pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Paya and in 2005 to a dissident group, Ladies in White.
A former Cuban soldier, Farinas is a contributor to the independent press agency "Cubanacan Press," which is maintained by anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.
Since 2006 he has repeatedly chosen hunger strikes to protest what he says is the lack of freedom _ notably the internet censorship _ and shaky respect for human rights in his country.
The Sakharov Award was announced four days before the EU foreign ministers are to assess the 27-nation bloc's relations with Cuba. The EU's view has long been that Cuba must improve its human rights record before relations can be upgraded.
Spain spearheads a bid to improve relations, but the bloc's former communist members in Eastern Europe oppose this.
Farinas said he opposes any improvement in European relations with his country, and he brushed off the release of political prisoners as insufficient. "The release of prisoners is not enough to make Cuba a democratic country," he added.
Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this story from Havana.