The European Union has awarded this year’s human rights prize to a Saudi blogger sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim clerics. Raif Badawi was honoured with the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, as a symbol of the fight for freedom of speech, an announcement greeted with a standing ovation Thursday at the European Parliament assembly in Strasbourg, France.
Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws with his liberal blog. He also was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over 20 installments, and fined $266,000. The flogging has been suspended since he received 50 lashes in January, a punishment that sparked international outrage.
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz urged “the king of Saudi Arabia to free him, so he can accept the prize.” Schulz described Badawi as ``an extremely good man, an exemplary man who has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties that exist in this country, which can only be described as brutal torture.'' Western governments have condemned Badawi's treatment, and rights groups including Amnesty International have campaigned for his release.
Badawi was one of three nominees for the prize this year, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica and assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. In February, the EU parliament voted a resolution calling for Badawi's immediate and unconditional release from jail. They called his flogging a ``cruel and shocking act.'' Lawmakers see his case as a symbol of the assault on freedom of expression and peaceful dissent.
The Sakharov Prize, officially known as the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in 1988 by the European Parliament as a means to honour individuals and groups of people who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The winner is usually announced in October, and the award ceremony takes place in November/December at the plenary sitting in Strasbourg. Among the previous recipients of the Sakharov prize are Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Malala Yousafzai, who were subsequentlyhonoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.
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