Raif Badawi wins free speech prize while in jail


SHAFAQNA – Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Wahhabism, has won a major free-speech prize.

Badawi was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, which he shares with British poet James Fenton, on Tuesday during a ceremony at the British capital, London.

The blogger’s lashing is to be carried out in 20 sessions in front of a mosque while he is also fined USD 266,000.

He received 50 lashes back in January, but the flogging has been suspended since then over international outrage that it provoked. However, Riyadh has so far refused to revoke the harsh sentence handed to the blogger despite the international outcry and rights groups’ campaign for his release.

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, accepted the prize on Badawi’s behalf, and harshly criticized Britain’s Foreign Office for refusing to take action for securing the blogger’s release as it says it would be “interfering” to comment on Saudi Arabia’s judicial process.

“The Foreign Office has condemned Raif Badawi’s sentence, but said that it would be ‘interfering’ for the government to comment on Saudi’s judicial process. Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay has even said that ‘the Saudi government in these respects has the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population’. One wonders how she knows, when the price for expressing what you think in Saudi Arabia is so very high, as Raif Badawi is aware.”

He also called on the UK government “to show moral leadership” and seek Badawi’s release. The British government has close ties with the Saudi regime.

Criticizing Wahhabi clerics is viewed as a red line as they are instrumental in supporting Riyadh’s policies.

International human rights organizations have lashed out at Saudi Arabia for failing to address the rights situation in the kingdom. They say Saudi Arabia has persistently implemented repressive policies that stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Established in 2009, the PEN Pinter Prize is awarded in memory of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and is run by writers’ group English PEN. It is given jointly to a British writer and a “writer of courage” who has faced persecution.

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