Raif Badawi has been awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The European Parliament supports human rights through the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, established in 1988. The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause.
Raif Badawi, 31, is a Saudi Arabian blogger, writer and activist and the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, an online platform for political and religious debate. Reportedly, his website hosted material criticizing senior religious figures and Raif Badawi suggested that the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become a den for terrorists.
In 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes.
The first 50 lashes were administered before hundreds of spectators on January 9, 2015. Subsequent sets have been postponed in the face of international condemnation and Raif Badawi’s dire state of health. Having received death threats, his wife and three children fled to Canada. His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2015 and he remains in jail.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz urged King Salman of Saudi Arabia to free the blogger, so he can accept the prize.
Earlier this month Raif Badawi also won the Pen Pinter Prize for championing free speech.
In June 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld Raif Badawi’s verdict despite a foreign outcry.
Martin Schulz told a packed European Parliament assembly in Strasbourg, France: “This man, who is an extremely good man, an exemplary man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties.
“I call on the Saudi king to immediately free him. Relations depend on human rights being respected by our partners… they are not only not being respected but are being trodden underfoot.”
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament’s Liberal bloc, said: “The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, now living Canada with their children, said the award was a “message of hope and courage”.
“I thank the European Parliament,” Ensaf Haidar told AFP news agency.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded by the European Parliament to individuals or organizations for their contribution to the fight for human rights and democracy.
The prize is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Raif Badawi was one of three nominees for this year’s prize along with assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica.
Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.