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Jailed Saudi blogger receives EU's Sakharov human rights prize

AFP/File | Supporters of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi protest in Paris against his sentence of 1,000 lashes for 'insulting Islam', on May 7, 2015

The European Union on Tuesday formally awarded its prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to a Saudi blogger currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for insulting Muslim clerics.

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Raif Badawi, who created and managed an online forum, was found guilty in 2014 of breaking Saudi Arabia’s technology laws and insulting Islam. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes on top of his jail term.

The award was presented to Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, at a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Badawi was announced as the 2015 recipient of the Sakharov Prize in October, with EU lawmakers choosing to honour the blogger as a symbol of the fight for freedom of speech.

"2015 #SakharovPrize awarded to @raif_badawi Deserved recognition of his role; also strong message to Saudi regime," The Greens/European Alliance parliamentary group said in a tweeted message at the time.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc, added: "The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities."

"We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging."

‘A person who loves life and adores freedom’

Badawi received his first 50 lashes in January, prompting strong criticism in Western countries of the kingdom’s human rights record.

“Raif was arrested in our country Saudi Arabia three years ago just because he expressed his ideas – he took to his keyboard and started his own website,” Haider wrote in a blog post for Amnesty in June.

“He is a person who loves life and adores freedom, and for this he has received the harshest of sentences.”

Badawi has been on a hunger strike since Tuesday last week after being transferred to a “new isolated” prison, according to Haider, who lives in Canada where she and their three children were granted political asylum.

Colette Lelievre, a Montreal-based campaign organiser with Amnesty International, said the group had been told Badawi was transferred to a different prison for “administrative reasons”. Amnesty had not yet independently confirmed he started a hunger strike.

The Freedom of Thought award is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. It was set up in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Badawi was one of three nominees for the prize, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, and assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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