Jailed Saudi blogger honoured with top EU rights prize

18.12.2015

Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger jailed and lashed for allegedly insulting Islam on an internet forum he created to boost public debate, was honoured Wednesday by the European Parliament with its top human rights award.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is dominated by the puritanical Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam, is rated as one of the world's most restrictive states. Badawi was selected in October for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, due to the exceptional courage that had earned him "one of his country's most gruesome punishments," parliament President Martin Schulz said at the time.

The 50,000-euro (54,900-dollar) award, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, honours individuals who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Previous recipients include former South African president Nelson Mandela and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haider, who collected the award on his behalf on Wednesday, said it marked an "historic moment," adding that it was the 15th prize her husband had received in less than a year. "Raif isn't a criminal," she told EU lawmakers. His only crime was to "think differently in a country where only one thought is allowed," she said.

Schulz repeated his call for Saudi King Salman to pardon Badawi and release him "immediately," so he could return to his family. The 31-year-old Badawi was arrested more than three years ago for criticising the Saudi religious police and sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. He received the first 50 lashes in January.

Subsequent lashes were suspended on health grounds, amid a global outcry at his punishment. Last week, Badawi went on hunger strike to protest at being moved to a prison about 100 kilometres outside of Jeddah, his wife said, noting that the transfer meant his case had been closed. Haider and the couple's three children now live in Canada.    (dpa)

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