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Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi wins freedom of speech prize

Badawi, who founded the blog Free Saudi Liberals, was convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia’s technology laws with his blog Arutz Sheva reports. He was originally sentenced to seven years and 600 lashes in 2013, the Guardian notes, but was re-sentenced to 10 years, 1,000 lashes and a fine.

That sentence was upheld by the Saudi supreme court last summer, and in December, Badawi began a hunger strike.

Badawi’s wife Ensar Haider Mohammed is calling on the world’s writers to keep pressuring regimes that are intolerant of free speech, and she’s traveling to London to collect the award on his behalf.

“Raif has become a symbol for the fight for freedom of expression and the right to publish ideas in writing,” she wrote in an email to the Guardian. “My husband once wrote that freedom of expression is the ‘air that any thinker breathes and the fuel that ignites the fire of his or her ideas,’ and he was right.”

She continued:

“This is why he is wasting away in jail today, and precisely why the world’s free writers should use their freedom of expression as a weapon in the war on oppression.”

She picked up the International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire award, along with a prize worth more than £7,000 (nearly $10,000), at a London ceremony Sunday evening.

The award, formerly known as the IPA Freedom to Publish prize, recognizes people or organizations that have made “an important contribution to defense and promotion of freedom to publish,” the Guardian reports. The money will go to the Raif Badawi foundation to continue advocating for his release and for promoting free speech in Saudi Arabia.

Badawi, 32, was accused of “adopting liberal thought” and “insulting Islam,” and IPA site reports that he was also accused of apostasy, however, no court has apparently ruled on this, Publishing Perspective reports. He was also fined $250,000 and was banned from traveling or participating in media work (including writing) for ten years after his release.

The first 50 lashes of the sentence were administered in Jeddah, in a public flogging in January 2015, Amnesty International reported, per Publishing Perspectives. International outrage was profound and it’s thought that the subsequent 950 lashes haven’t been administered since.

Badawi’s treatment has spurred Western governments to condemn Badawi’s treatment and civil rights grops including Amnesty International. And Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has criticized Saudi Arabia for inflicting a “medieval” punishment on Badawi.

The father of three children (Terad, Najwa, and Miriam), he married Haidar in 2002 in Saudi Arabia. Haidar and their three children were granted political asylum in Quebec, Canada, in 2013, Raif reports.

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