Strasbourg (AsiaNews) – Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose flogging sentence caused an outcry, has been awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize.
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, urged Saudi King Salman "to immediately grant mercy to Mr Badawi and to free him so that he can accept the prize”.
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought since 1988 to individuals or organisations for their contribution to the fight for human rights and democracy.
It is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, and comes with a cash prize of 50,000 € (,206). Previous winners include the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.
The Saudi activist, who earlier this month received the Pen Pinter Prize, was one of three nominees for this year's award along with assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica.
Living in exile in Canada, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar said she was "very happy" for the award and the recognition. For her, “It is a message of hope and courage for him”. However, in thanking the European Parliament, she noted that her husband is scheduled for another round of flogging.
Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In he was re-sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison. He also received a fine of 1 million riyal (US$ 267,000). The Saudi Supreme Court upheld the sentence in June and the original charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. His website was shut down.
Between 2008 and 2012, Badawi ran Liberal Saudi Network, an online forum that encouraged discussion of current affairs, including politics and even religion.
A video shot with a mobile phone showing his first flogging went viral, causing a worldwide outcry and calls for clemency. Saudi authorities responded expressing "surprise and dismay" at the criticism and rejected all forms of interference in the internal affairs of the country.
Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law (Sharia) and does not tolerate any form of political dissent.
Internet is widely used in the kingdom, and Saudis are among the heaviest users of social media like Facebook and twitter in the Middle East. However, here too the authorities are quick to come down hard on any criticism or call for change.