Free speech prize for jailed Saudi blogger
Raif Badawi, languishing in jail in Saudi Arabia for ‘insulting Islam’, has won the Pen Pinter Prize for championing free speech.
Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence and received 50 of 1,000 lashes that formed part of his punishment. He was also fined £175,000.
He shares the prize with British poet and journalist James Fenton.
Accepting the award for Badawi, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the British government should “show moral leadership” and seek his release.
Raif should have been honoured for founding a website that allowed healthy public discourse in Saudi Arabia; he should not have been held behind bars, facing flogging.
Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent. It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism.
Badawi was convicted of insulting Islam in 2012. He received his first 50 lashes in January, but subsequent floggings have been postponed.
In June, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict despite foreign outcry.
Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who has campaigned for his release, said she was “honoured” by the award, and added:
Raif is just a peace-loving intellectual who was not content to be part of the flock or to follow men of religion who are out of touch with the real world and who rule through laws that are unjust and despotic.
The award was established in 2009 in memory of playwright and Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter.
It is awarded annually to one British writer and one international writer, who show:
A fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.
Fenton, who was awarded the UK element of the prize earlier this year, said:
What moved me was the contrast between the simplicity of Mr Badawi’s liberal aims – their modesty, almost – and the ferocity of the punishments they have brought down on him. Imprisonment, astonishing fines, corporal punishment designed to break either the spirit or the body first and to act as a chill warning to others.
It is a world of inconceivable cruelty, but intimately linked to ours by business, strategic interests, military and diplomatic ties. For our part, then, protest has a purpose and – who knows? – perhaps even a chance of some sort of success.
Previous winners of the Pinter Prize include Tom Stoppard, Carol Ann Duffy, Hanif Kureishi and last year’s winner, Salman Rushdie.
Hat tip: AgentCormac