Top human rights prize goes to 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 (October, 29) 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.
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 being suspended on health grounds.
Earlier this year he was the recipient of a Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech award which his wife, Ensaf Haidar, accepted on his behalf.
“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.