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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Mandela to get Conscience award
Former South African President Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison for fighting apartheid
Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is to be awarded Amnesty International's highest honour.

The former South African president is to receive the Ambassador of Conscience award in recognition of his work in the cause of freedom and justice.

"More than any other living person, Mr Mandela symbolises all that is hopeful and idealistic in public life," said Amnesty spokesman Bill Shipsey.

Amnesty International campaigns for the rights of prisoners of conscience.

Mr Mandela, who spent 28 years in prison for fighting white rule before leading South Africa to multi-racial democracy as the country's first black president in 1994, will be presented with the award in Johannesburg on 1 November.

Difficult history

However, the BBC's Africa editor, Martin Plaut, says Amnesty has not always been so supportive of Nelson Mandela.

In 1960, the South African government killed 89 unarmed men and women who were holding a peaceful anti-apartheid protest in Sharpeville.

In response, the African National Congress, of which Nelson Mandela was a leading member, launched an armed struggle.

Mr Mandela was sent for weapons training in Algeria, and returned to initiate a campaign of sabotage.

Amnesty was present at Mr Mandela's trial in 1962 but could not adopt him as a prisoner of conscience because of his violent associations.

Today, Amnesty says if a trial is unfair, a prisoner has been tortured, or their jail is inhumane, they can be considered prisoners of conscience even if they have used violence.


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