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.
UN Human rights conference was also headed by Saudi Arab but seeing many examples of unfair punishments on free speech, many criticized this act.
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