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Freedom of Speech Award for Raif Badawi

Martin Muno / db
February 25, 2015

Imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia receives DW's first Freedom of Speech award. DW is awarding the prize as part of its international online awards "The Bobs."

Demonstration for Raif Badawi
Image: picture-alliance/empics

The Deutsche Welle Governing Board decided unanimously in favor of Raif Badawi, said Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg.

"He stands, in an exemplary way, for the brave and fearless commitment to the human right of freedom of expression. Our award sends a signal and contributes to bringing his fate into the public spotlight. We hope this will increase pressure on those responsible in Saudi Arabia to release Badawi."

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar told DW she was overjoyed. From her home in Canada, she said the DW Freedom of Speech Award sends a clear message to the Saudi regime. "It is a disgrace that Raif is still sitting in prison - especially at a time when Saudi Arabia fights against the “Islamic State” group and its disregard for human rights. I am extremely thankful to Deutsche Welle for its support."

Ten years in jail, 1,000 lashes

The 31-year-old blogger was sentenced by Saudi authorities in May 2014 to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a major fine. The first 50 lashes were administered in public on January 9. He was meant to receive 50 lashes every Friday from then on, but the public flogging has been postponed more than once, reportedly for health reasons.

DW presented the Freedom of Speech award for the first time this year, in the framework of the 11th annual competition of "The Bobs – Best of Online Activism," commending outstanding online activists and projects.

The winner of the Freedom of Speech Award as well as the winners of The Bobs' three jury categories will be recognized on June 23 at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany.

Courageous advocate for the freedom of expression

Raif Badawi has been fighting for the freedom of expression in his country for many years. On the Free Saudi Liberals website, he attacked political and social grievances in Saudi Arabia. He published sarcastic articles on the religious police, called a prominent Saudi university a den of terrorists and wrote about Valentine's Day, which is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

In 2008, Badawi was arrested for the first time for allegedly creating an "electronic site" that "insults Islam." He left the country for a few months, only to return when the charges were dropped. In 2009, the Saudi government imposed a travel ban, and on June 17, 2012, Badawi was arrested again and put on trial, accused of insulting Muslim religious leaders on his website

"Murder by degrees"

A higher court charged Badawi with apostasy, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The court's reasoning: the blogger is to have said that Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists are all equal. The apostasy charges were later dropped.

Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, fled Saudi Arabia with their three children in 2013 and found political asylum in Canada.

Even if Badawi escaped the death sentence, human rights activists rate 50 lashes for 20 weeks as a slow, agonizing death. Badawi's punishment amounts to "murder by degrees," says Tom Koenigs, a German Greens politician. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the floggings "cruel, wrong, unjust and totally out of proportion."