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Jailed Saudi blogger awarded EU Sakharov prize

Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband Raif Badawi next to European Parliament president Martin Schulz after accepting the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize on behalf of her husband, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 16, 2015. (AFP photo)

The wife of an imprisoned Saudi blogger convicted for criticizing the Wahhabi ideology in his country has received the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize on behalf of her husband.

The Parliament head, Martin Schulz, presented the prize to Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, at an awarding ceremony in Strasbourg, eastern France on Wednesday.

Badawi was awarded for his courageous criticism of the kingdom’s extremist Wahhabi ideology.

During the ceremony, Schulz called on Saudi King Salman "to grant mercy to Raif Badawi and without further ado release him and allow him to return to his family."

Haidar, who lives with their three children in Canada, said in an address to the European lawmakers that "freedom of expression is like the air that we breathe."

Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc, said that the award could send signal to the Saudi regime, which has come under strong criticism over its appalling human rights record.

This photo taken on January 29, 2015 shows an Amnesty International activist holding a picture of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi during a protest against his flogging punishment in front of Saudi Arabia's embassy to Germany in Berlin. (AFP photo)


"The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities," Verhofstadt said, adding, "We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging."

The Sakharov human rights prize is worth 50,000 euros (USD 54,000) and awarded every year to honor individuals who combat intolerance and oppression.

Badawi, in jail since 2012, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. The 31-year-old blogger’s flogging is to be carried out in 20 sessions. He received his first 50 lashes in January.

He has also been sentenced to $266,000 in cash fine and a 10-year ban on overseas travel.

The blogger has been on a hunger strike since Tuesday last week after being transferred to a “new isolated” prison.

Criticism of Wahhabi clerics is viewed as a serious offense by Riyadh.

International human rights organizations have condemned Saudi Arabia for its repressive policies toward political dissent.


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