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Saudi blogger sentenced to lashes wins free speech prize

Badawi's sentence has provoked international outrage [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 October, 2015

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Saudi blogger Raif al-Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, has won an international free speech prize.
A Saudi blogger sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashings for insulting Muslim clerics was awarded a international free-speech prize on Tuesday.

Raif Badawi shared the PEN Pinter Prize with British poet James Fenton.

Badawi was convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws with his liberal blog. Amnesty International has stated that he is not a criminal but was imprisoned because he championed free speech.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes spread over 20 instalments - a punishment that sparked international outrage - and was fined $266,000.

The lashes have been suspended after Badawi received the first instalment of 50 on 9 January, at least initially because doctors ruled that the wounds had not healed by the scheduled next punishment, and he was too weak to endure another round. He suffers from poor health and is a diabetic.

The lashes were suspended after Badawi received the first 50, because doctors ruled he was too weak to endure another round

Badawi's second round of lashes has so far been postponed 12 times.

International condemnation

Western governments have condemned Badawi's treatment, and rights groups including Amnesty International have campaigned for his release.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who accepted the award on the blogger's behalf at a London ceremony, criticised Britain's Foreign Office for saying it would be "interfering" to comment on Saudi Arabia's judicial process.

Saudi Arabia is a major strategic and trading partner of Britain. Wales urged the British government "to show moral leadership" and seek Badawi's release.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that ministers "regularly raise human rights cases with the Saudi Arabian government at the highest levels, including the case of Raif Badawi". It said Britain hoped the Saudi Supreme Court would soon rule on the case.

On Tuesday, Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, protested with a few dozen others outside the Saudi Embassy in Vienna. Haidar, who lives in Quebec with the couple's three children, is on a European tour to push for the release of her husband.

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter and is run by writers' group English PEN. It goes jointly to a British writer seen as sharing Pinter's "unflinching, unswerving" gaze on society, and a "writer of courage" who has faced persecution.

Fenton, a former Oxford University professor of poetry and war correspondent, said Badawi's punishment represented "a world of inconceivable cruelty, but intimately linked to ours by business, strategic interests, military and diplomatic ties". 

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