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Jailed, Whipped Saudi Blogger Wins 2015 Sakharov Prize

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (file photo)

A Saudi blogger who has been jailed and lashed for his writing has been named as the winner of the European Parliament's 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The 31-year-old Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious police and on charges of apostasy.

After the award was announced on October 29, the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz urged Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to immediately release Badawi.

Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on charges of insulting Islam on the Internet. He was also fined 1 million riyal (about $267,000).

The sentence called for the lashes to be carried out over a period of 20 weeks.

Badawi received his first 50 lashes in public on January 9, 2015.

Further flogging has been suspended more than a dozen times, officially on health grounds, but also after an international outcry.

However, in June 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, says the punishment amounts to a death sentence because he will not be able to survive the lashings.

Badawi is known to have hypertension and his health has worsened dramatically since the flogging began.

On October 29, Haidar said the news that her husband had won the prestigious Sakharov prize was a "message of hope and courage."

Hungarian European Parliament member Tamas Meszerics, whose political group was among those who nominated Badawi for the prize, said Europe "cannot stay silent anymore when individuals face torture or death merely for expressing their ideas in Saudi Arabia."

Amnesty International says Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who was detained “solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International says that, even in Saudi Arabia, "where state repression is rife, it is beyond the pale to seek the death penalty for an activist whose only 'crime' was to enable social debate online.”

Human Rights Watch has called on the Saudi government to drop the charges, saying they are based only on Badawi's involvement in "setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures.”

Badawi's wife and his three children -- two daughters and a son -- obtained political asylum in Canada in 2013.

Badawi's bank accounts in Saudi Arabia have been frozen since 2009.

The European Parliament's freedom of thought award -- a cash prize of 50,000 euro ($57,206) -- was named after Soviet scientist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The award has been handed out since 1988 to honor individuals and organizations who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The 2015 Sakharov prize is to be formally presented at an award ceremony in Strasbourg on December 16.

The other finalists who had been shortlisted for the prize were the assassinated Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the Venezuelan democratic opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica.

Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin in Moscow in February, in a killing that highlighted the dangers faced by critics of President Vladimir Putin and his government.

Mesa de la Unidad Democratica was formed as an election coalition in 2008 to unify the opposition to then President Hugo Chavez's political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

The group is comprised of opposition leaders, activists, and students who have been detained or are under house arrest for what the European Parliament described as "exercising their right to freedom."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AP, and AFP
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