The European Parliament has awarded this year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom and Thought to Saudi Arabian blogger and activist, Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1000 lashes for his liberal thoughts and criticism of the kingdom’s religious establishment. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, 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” and further said that in Mr. Badawi’s case, fundamental human rights “not only not being respected, they are being trodden underfoot”. Mr. Badawi, whose wife and children have applied for asylum in Canada, was arrested in 2012 on the grounds of apostasy, cybercrime and disobeying his father. Apostasy is normally punished by death in Saudi Arabia but Mr Badawi was not in the end convicted of the crime and instead he received 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes.
In January this year, Mr Badawi received the first batch of 1,000 lashes – he was caned 50 times in front of a mosque in the port city of Jeddah. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, said that this health has deteriorated since then, fearing that he might not survive further lashes. Saudi Arabia has not commented on Mr. Badawi’s award. Instead, an official at the Saudi Mission to the European Union in Brussels reiterated a past statement that the Saudi judicial system was independent and third parties are not in place to criticize it. The Sakharov Prize is the EU’s most prestigious human rights award. It was established in 1988 and it is named after the nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov (1921-89), who led the Soviet Union’s development of the hydrogen bomb and then became a selfless human rights activist.