Flogged Saudi Ara­bian blog­ger, UK poet share Pin­ter free-speech prize


A Saudi blog­ger who has been jailed and flogged for in­sult­ing Mus­lim cler­ics was awarded a ma­jor free-speech prize on Tues­day.

Raif Badawi shared the PEN Pin­ter Prize with Bri­tish poet James Fenton.

Badawi is serv­ing a 10-year sen­tence af­ter be­ing con­victed of in­sult­ing Is­lam and break­ing Saudi Ara­bia’s tech­nol­ogy laws with his lib­eral blog. He also was sen­tenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over 20 in­stal­ments, and fined US$266,000. The flog­ging has been sus­pended since Badawi re­ceived 50 lashes in Jan­uary, a pun­ish­ment that sparked in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

Western gov­ern­ments have con­demned Badawi’s treat­ment, and rights groups in­clud­ing Amnesty In­ter­na­tional have cam­paigned for his re­lease.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who ac­cepted the award on the blog­ger’s be­half at a Lon­don cer- emony, crit­i­cized the UK’s For­eign Of­fice for say­ing it would be “in­ter­fer­ing” to com­ment on Saudi Ara­bia’s ju­di­cial process.

Saudi Ara­bia is a ma­jor strate­gic and trad­ing part­ner of the UK, and Wales urged the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment “to show moral lead­er­ship” and seek Badawi’s re­lease.

The For­eign Of­fice said in a state­ment that min­is­ters “reg­u­larly raise hu­man rights cases with the Saudi Ara­bian gov­ern­ment at the high­est lev­els, in­clud­ing the case of Raif Badawi.” It said the UK hoped the Saudi Supreme Court would soon rule on the case.

On Tues­day, Badawi’s wide, En­saf Haidar, protested with a few dozen oth­ers out­side the Saudi Em­bassy in Vi­enna. Haidar, who lives in Que­bec with the cou­ple’s three chil­dren, is on a Euro­pean tour to push for the re­lease of her hus­band.

The PEN Pin­ter Prize was es­tab­lished in 2009 in mem­ory of No­bel Prize-win­ning play­wright Harold Pin­ter and is run by writ­ers’ group English PEN. It goes jointly to a Bri­tish writer seen as shar­ing Pin­ter’s “un­flinch­ing, unswerv­ing” gaze on so­ci­ety, and a “writer of courage” who has faced per­se­cu­tion.

Fenton, a former Ox­ford Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of po­etry and war cor­re­spon­dent, said Badawi’s pun­ish­ment rep­re­sented “a world of in­con­ceiv­able cru­elty, but in­ti­mately linked to ours by busi­ness, strate­gic in­ter­ests, mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ties.”

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