Imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
A Saudi court has sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam"
European Parliament President Martin Shulz says Badawi has "courageously expressed his ideas"
A Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” has been awarded the European Parliament’s 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Blogger Raif Badawi has been behind bars since 2012 for his online posts while running a blog called Saudi Arabian Liberals, where he hosted political and religious debate and advocated secularism in a highly religious society.
A Jeddah court convicted him in 2014, handing down a 10-year prison term and ordering that Badawi be lashed 1,000 times. The whippings were to be carried out 50 lashes at a time, 20 weeks in a row. Badawi received the first flogging in January 2015, but since then, the punishment has been pushed back several times.
“This man, who is an extremely good man and an exemplary good man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties that exist in this country which can only be described as brutal torture,” he said.
“I call on King of Saudi Arabia to stop the execution of this sentence, to release Mr. Badawi, to allow him to back to his wife and to allow him to travel here for the December session to receive this prize.”
Freedom of speech
In a statement posted to Twitter, Shulz said in awarding the prize to Badawi, the European Parliament “asserts its support for freedom of speech as one of the fundamental human rights.”
“Mr. Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger and writer, courageously expressed his ideas, openly raised his doubts on the rules of his country which he deemed overtly restrictive and fought for the freedom of thought of all Saudis.
“His commitment to foster political pluralism and religious freedom, calling for the respect of minorities, of women’s rights and freedom of speech are the only ‘crimes’ he ever committed,” the statement said.
In February, European lawmakers strongly condemned Badawi’s flogging as “a cruel and shocking act.”
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, told CNN, “I hope this prize that he won is a positive sign leading to his release. Of course, this prize has a huge positive impact, not only for Raif, but for all.”
Haidar has said her husband created the Saudi Arabian Liberals forum in 2008 in an effort to encourage discussion about faith.
This week, she said her husband was expected to receive the second 50 lashes soon.
In a statement published on the Raif Badawi Foundation website Tuesday, Haidar said that an “informed source” told her that Saudi authorities had approved resuming the floggings.
“The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison,” she said. The sentence originally called for the floggings to be carried out in public.
“It is worth mentioning that the same source had warned me of Raif’s pending flogging at the beginning of January 2015 and his warning was confirmed, as Raif was flogged on 9th January,” she said.
Badawi’s first flogging, in January, provoked an outcry from human rights groups and Western governments.
The second flogging was delayed eight days later after doctors determined that Badawi’s injuries had not healed sufficiently for him to be flogged for the second time, Amnesty International reported.
Badawi was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years and 600 lashes, but the punishment was increased upon appeal in 2014, Human Rights Watch has said.
The sentence covers convictions for violating the kingdom’s information technology law, insulting Islam and, according to Human Rights Watch, “blasphemous phrases on his Facebook page and disobedience to his father.”
In June 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the 2014 sentence, ending the appeals process.
But in her statement this week, Haidar said that a “senior source” in the Saudi Ministry of Justice had told her that the Saudi judiciary was still reviewing her husband’s case.
She also pointed to comments made by Britain’s parliamentary undersecretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs in July, in which he said he understood “the case is under consideration in the Saudi Supreme Court.”
CNN’s Carol Jordan, Robyn Curnow and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.