Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi gets top EU human rights award 'Sakharov Prize'

London: Raif Badawi, a blogger and activist who has been imprisoned and publicly flogged for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s top human rights award, on Thursday.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, who announced the award, called Mr. Badawi “an extremely good man, an exemplary man who has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties” that “can only really be described as brutal torture.” Mr. Schulz urged the Saudi king to “immediately grant mercy to Mr. Badawi and to free him so that he can accept the prize.”

He added, “In the case of Mr. Badawi, fundamental human rights are not only not being respected, they are being trodden underfoot.”

Mr. Badawi, 31, was arrested in 2012 — on charges that included apostasy, cybercrime and disobeying his father — after he started a website that criticized the Saudi religious establishment. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. The next year, he was resentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. (He was not convicted of apostasy, which carries a death sentence.)

On Jan. 9, Mr. Badawi received his first 50 lashes at a mosque outside the port city of Jidda. It is not clear why he has not been caned since then, though his wife, Ensaf Haidar, has said that he is in poor health and might not survive the caning. Ms. Haidar and the couple’s three children live in Canada, where they sought asylum.

Mr. Badawi’s case has become a cause célèbre among human rights observers. Officials at the United Nations, the United States and other Western powers have condemned his sentencing, as have Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This month, he was the co-recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize, a free-speech award established in 2009 in honor of the British playwright Harold Pinter.

The authorities also jailed Mr. Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, the founder of a group called Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for undermining the government, inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary.

Reached by telephone, an official at the Saudi Mission to the European Union in Brussels said the kingdom did not have a response to the announcement. He pointed to a past statement in which the Saudi authorities stated that their judicial system was independent and that it was not the place of outsiders to criticize it.

The prize, established in 1988, is named for the nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov (1921-89), who led the Soviet Union’s development of the hydrogen bomb and then became a tireless crusader for human rights. Past winners include Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. In 2013, the prize went to Malala Yousafzai, a teenage Pakistani activist for women’s rights who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014, it was awarded to Denis Mukwege, a gynecologic surgeon in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has devoted himself to victims of organized sexual violence.

European lawmakers are invited each year to nominate candidates for the Sakharov Prize; each nominee must have the support of at least 40 of the European Parliament’s 751 members. A three-member short list was drawn up by two parliamentary committees, and the winner was chosen by a panel that included Mr. Schulz and leaders of political groups in Parliament.

The two other short-listed nominees this year were Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, a coalition of Venezuelan organizations that was formed in 2008 to unify opposition to President Hugo Chávez (who died in 2013), and the Russian opposition politician Boris Y. Nemtsov, a leading critic of the Kremlin, who was shot to death in Moscow in February.

Courtesy New York Times

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