Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has won the EU’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, after a decision of the European Parliament’s group leaders. Badawi was nominated for the award by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, alongside several other parliamentary groups.
He is currently serving a 10-year sentence, with 1,000 lashes, for setting up a website that encourages political discourse in Saudi Arabia.
Badawi received the first 50 lashes in January 2015, but it has been reported that the remainder of his sentence could resume shortly.
The Sakharov prize was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament as a means to honour individuals and groups of people who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedom of thought. Previous laureates include Aung San Suu Kyi and Malala Yousafzai.
Syed Kamall, leader of the ECR Group, which nominated and supported Badawi’s case for the Sakharov Prize, said, “I am delighted that Raif Badawi has won this prize. This is a prize for freedom of thought, and I can think of nobody more deserving than a man imprisoned for encouraging open debate in a country where it is not tolerated.
“This prize should send out a strong signal to Saudi Arabia that freedom of speech and thought is a universal right. Saudi Arabia can lock up the man and they can lash him, but they will only strengthen amongst his countrymen the yearning for free speech and debate that he stands for.
“We award this prize in December and I very much hope that by then Raif Badawi will be able to collect it in person.”
Further reaction came from Mark Demesmaeker, ECR human rights spokesman, who dded, “A blogger does not belong in a dark cell and does not deserve lashes. He deserves to be cherished, especially by a country chairing the UN Human Rights Council.”
Peter van Dalen, co-chair of the ECR’s policy group in religious freedom, added, “The ECR policy group on religious freedom seeks to bring justice to unjust legal systems like these. We believe the EU needs to reform its diplomatic posture towards Saudi Arabia, such that we promote religious freedom for all, and work to repeal injustices like blasphemy laws – of which Mr. Badawi has fallen victim.”
By Martin Banks