Sakharov Prize-winner Raif Badawi | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.10.2015
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Sakharov Prize-winner Raif Badawi

He's a blogger, a regime critic, a father, and a longstanding prisoner in Saudi Arabia - Raif Badawi's life has many facets. Now, the European Parliament has honored his efforts with a significant award.

Raif Badawi has sat in a Saudi jail for more than three years now. According to the authorities' allegations, the 31-year old "insulted Islam" on his blog, called "Free Saudi Liberals." He was arrested in 2012, his website was shut down.

Badawi was tried on charges of "apostasy" - for renouncing the Muslim faith he was born into. Under Saudi Arabia's monarchy, this supposed crime can be punished with the death penalty. This didn't happen to Badawi, but he still faced a tough sentence: 10 years in jail, a sizeable fine, and 1,000 lashes, 50 of which were carried out in public in January. He's also been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for 10 years after leaving prison. So, if the powers that be get their way, the father - whose health is poor - will not see his wife or their children for another 17 years.

'Papa, why are you in prison?'

In an open letter to his father, then-10-year-old son Terad (or "Doudi") found the question on many people's lips: "Papa, is it really true that you are in prison because you founded a website that calls for discussion on social and political issues?"

It's true that the site, now banned and removed from the Web, was an oasis of free exchange of opinion, a place where other liberals could express their frustration at the dominance of strict Wahhabi Muslims in Saudi Arabia.

On the platform, blogger Badawi, referring to himself as a "friend of humanity, free spirit and author," called for changes including the abolition of the Saudi religious police. He criticized leading politicians, dubbed a top university in the country a "terrorists' shelter," and wrote about Valentine's Day - which is outlawed in Saudi Arabia.

Worldwide support and a strong wife

Since the verdict, human rights activists and politicians all over the world have worked to secure Badawi's release: without any success, so far. Norbert Lammert, speaker of Germany's lower house of parliament, issued strong criticism early this year: the state was "defying the minimum standards of humanity" in the name of God, Lammert said.

Badawi's most fierce advocate is his wife, Ensaf Haidar. She told DW that, ultimately, "I just wanted to lead a normal life - with my children and my husband." Instead, she had to flee her home because of constant threats. Now, she worries for her husband's well-being from Canada, which granted her asylum. She can speak to her husband by phone about once a week. These discussions are what give her hope - even though she can tell from his voice that his health is not "good," as he himself assures her.

GMF 2015 The Bobs Awards Ceremony

Absent, but not forgotten: Badawi's plight was a key focus at DW's 2015 Global Media Forum

Representative for many similar sufferers

Raif Badawi has surely become an icon for freedom of expression. And, as long as he's behind bars, his wife is his ambassador. She recently set up a foundation promoting free expression, and collected DW's "Freedom of Speech Award" on her husband's behalf in June. She may make it to Berlin in November, when the inaugural "Raif Badawi Award for Courageous Journalists" is given out at an annual media gala.

The European Parliament said that its award to Badawi should also honor "all people who are fighting for the right to free expression around the world," according to Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, speaking after the three nominees for the Sakharov Prize were announced.

The prize, carrying a purse of 50,000 euros ($55,000), was first awarded by the European Parliament in 1988. It goes to people or organizations fighting for human rights and basic freedoms. Alongside Badawi, this year's nominees were the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemzov and the democratic opposition in Venezuela. The award ceremony will be held in Strasbourg on December 16.

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