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Saudi-blogger Raif Badawi awarded 2015 Sakharov Prize

A top human rights prize goes to Saudi-blogger Raif Badawi. Previous winners include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.

The European Union's top human rights prize was awarded Thursday to a persecuted 31-year-old Saudi blogger arrested more than three years ago for his criticism of the oil-rich Gulf Arab kingdom.

The announcement was received with a standing ovation at the European Parliament assembly in Strasbourg, France.

"I urge the king of Saudi Arabia to free him, so he can accept the prize," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said. "Relations depend on human rights being respected by our partners ... they are not only not being respected but are being trod underfoot."

Badawi co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network. He was arrested in June 2012 under cybercrime provisions, and a judge ordered the website shut down after it criticized Saudi Arabia's religious police.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam; he received 50 public lashes in January before the punishment was suspended on health grounds.

Watch video 01:47

The Saudi Arabian blogger awarded Sakharov Prize

Earlier this year he was the recipient of a

Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech

award, which his wife, Ensaf Haidar, accepted on his behalf.

She called the Sakharov Prize a "message of hope and courage" for her husband.

"I thank the European Parliament. I am very happy about this award," she told the AFP news agency Thursday.

The award choice has received accolades by rights defenders, who took to Twitter to laud the jury's choice.

"Europe cannot stay silent anymore when individuals face torture or death merely for expressing their ideas in Saudi Arabia," said Green EU parliamentarian Tamas Meszerics, whose political group had been among those who nominated Badawi for the prize.

The other two nominees were

Boris Nemtsov,

a former deputy prime minister turned critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was assassinated in February.

The Democratic Opposition in Venezuela, a coalition opposing the oil-rich South American country's ruling party, was also nominated. It has seen several members detained or placed under house arrest.

Previous winners of the Sakharov Prize include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Nelson Mandela, the late South African leader.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was established by the European Parliament in 1988. It is awarded to individuals found to have made exceptional contributions to human rights and is meant to draw attention in particular to rights violations around the globe.

jar/kms (AFP, dpa, epd)

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