Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger whose 10-year, 1,000-lash sentence for allegedly insulting Muslim clerics spurred global outrage and drew attention to Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime, was on Thursday awarded the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
“Freedom of expression is the air that every thinker breathes, the spark that lights his thoughts. Over the centuries, nations and societies have only progressed thanks to their thinkers.”
“The conference of Presidents decided that the Sakharov Prize will go to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi,” said Martin Schulz, the Parliament’s president. “This man, who is an extremely good man and an exemplary good man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties that exist in this country which can only be described as brutal torture.”
Schulz then went further, calling on the Saudi king “to free him, so he can accept the prize.”
“We call on Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately halt any punishment measures, reconsider the judgement, and release Mr. Badawi without charges,” Schulz said in a statement. “The same should apply to all individuals condemned for having expressed freely their opinions in Saudi Arabia and beyond.”
Badawi, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, was arrested in 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam and indicted on several charges including apostasy. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, and then resentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine in 2014.
The first 50 lashes were administered before hundreds of spectators on 9 January, 2015. The flogging was denounced by Amnesty International at the time as “a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law.” Subsequent sets have been postponed in the face of international condemnation and Badawi’s poor health. His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2015 and he remains in jail.
Meanwhile, having received death threats, his wife and three children fled to Canada. According to Agence France-Presse, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar hailed the award on Thursday as “a message of hope and courage.”
“Raif has spoken up for all Saudis who simply dream of enjoying the same rights as other human beings. He has paid dearly for his commitment and this Sakharov Prize sends a clear and strong message to his torturers.”
—Karim Lahiji, International Federation for Human Rights
The award was also celebrated by the Paris-headquartered International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which said Badawi had played a major role in promoting freedom of expression and attempting to foster public debate in Saudi Arabia.
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“Raif has spoken up for all Saudis who simply dream of enjoying the same rights as other human beings,” said FIDH president Karim Lahiji. “He has paid dearly for his commitment and this Sakharov Prize sends a clear and strong message to his torturers.”