Jailed Saudi blogger awarded Europe's rights prize

Appeal made for release of Raif Badawi, imprisoned and lashed for insulting Islam, so that he can accept Sakharov Prize.

    Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger jailed and lashed for allegedly insulting Islam last year, has been awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize.

    Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, has called for Saudi King Salman to pardon Raif Badawi and "release him so that he can accept the prize".

    "[The blogger is an] unusually courageous and ... exemplary man [who is facing punishment that] objectively can only be described as brutal torture," Schulz said on Thursday.

    Badawi, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

    He received the first 50 lashes of his sentence in public in January.

    However, subsequent rounds of his punishment were suspended officially due to his declining heath, and after intense international pressure.

    Standing ovation

    The announcement of the Sakharov Prize was greeted with a standing ovation by EU legislators taking part in the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg, France.

    "I can think of nobody more deserving [of the Sakharov Prize] than a man imprisoned for encouraging open debate in a country where it is not tolerated," said Syed Kamall, the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists faction in the legislature, which was among the political groups that nominated the blogger for the award.

    Badawi's wife calls for his release

    "This prize should send out a strong signal to Saudi Arabia that freedom of speech and thought is a universal right."

    Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haider, expressed hope the decision will place pressure on Saudi Arabia to free him.

    "I hope this sends a positive signal for Raif's release," she said from Canada where she is staying.

    "I hope it will raise his morale, which was not so good when I talked to him six days ago."

    The sentence had caused an international outcry and been condemned by rights groups.

    The US has also expressed "great concern" and called on ally Saudi Arabia to review the sentence.

    Badawi was one of three nominees for this year's prize along with Boris Nemtsov, the slain Russian opposition politician, and Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, the Venezuelan opposition movement.

    Previous recipients of the award include Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar activist, and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education campaigner.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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