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.”