The U.S. State Department has congratulated a group of Cuban women on being among the winners of the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement Thursday that the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) have held peaceful protests every Sunday since their husbands and sons were rounded up in a 2003 crackdown on dissent in Cuba.

He said despite regular harassment and abuse by Castro security forces, the women peacefully and non-violently demonstrate what he called the enduring freedom-loving spirit of the Cuban people. The comments came one day after the women, along with the media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, and a Nigerian human rights lawyer, Hauwa Ibrahim, were awarded the prize.

The women have pledged to continue the protests until all the 75 dissidents arrested in the crackdown are freed. Fourteen people have been released so far.