Winner of the Week – 1 November 2015: Raif Badawi

It was announced on Thursday that Raif Badawi won the European Union’s Sakharov human rights prize. The Guardian reports :

Badawi, Raif Wiki

Raif Badawi (Source: Wikipedia)

Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger and activist sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, has won the EU’s Sakharov prize for human rights.

The announcement was greeted on Thursday with a standing ovation at the European parliament in Strasbourg, France, but will be seen by Saudi Arabia as another diplomatic slight at a time when its domestic and international policies are coming under growing criticism.

Martin Schulz, the European parliament president, said: “I urge the king of Saudi Arabia to free him [Badawi], so he can accept the prize.”

Named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the award was created in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Badawi was one of three nominees this year, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democrática and the assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

“The European parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc. “We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging.”

Raif Badawi was sentenced to ten years in prison plus 1,000 lashes for the crime of writing a blog that questioned the way his country was run. According to, he was “charged with ‘setting up a website that undermines general security’, ‘ridiculing Islamic religious figures’, and ‘going beyond the realm of obedience’.” There have been attempts to get apostasy added to the charges, which would carry a death sentence, although these have so far been unsuccessful. The 1,000 lashes were to be carried out in front of the main mosque in Jeddah each week after Friday prayers. Personally, I find this particular aspect of his punishment revolting in the extreme.

Badawi received the first fifty lashes of his sentence back on 9 January this year, despite multiple calls from other countries and international agencies not to proceed. He was transported from his prison by bus to the square in front of a mosque in Jeddah. As Friday prayers ended, a uniformed man with a cane began to hit him across his bared back, and didn’t stop until he’d whacked Badawi fifty times. The same Je Suis Raif Badawithing was supposed to happen every week, same place, same time, until the sentence of 1,000 lashes had been carried out. The only reason it hasn’t is a sick nod to humanitarianism – the first quota left him too ill to undergo further sessions.

On the same day that that Badawi’s first batch of lashes were administered, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Nizar Madani, was in Paris. There, he linked arms with other senior politicians from all over the world in support of freedom of speech in the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) march that followed the massacre of nine staff of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. I’m all for diplomacy, but the hypocrisy of that disgusted me. It is the extremism of Wahhabism that is the reason Raif Badawi is in prison undergoing corporal punishment for questioning his government, and some are trying to turn that into a death sentence. It is the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia that has infected some people and led them to actions such as those of the brothers who thought murdering a bunch of cartoonists was a sacred act that would be lauded by their god.

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia is the third most prolific state killer in the world, surpassed only by China and Iran. They report that the use of the death penalty has soared under the new king, Salman. In 2014, 90 people were executed; 102 have been executed in just the first six months of 2015. Further, more than half of those executions were for non-lethal crimes including adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug-related offences, rape, witchcraft and sorcery. Also, people with mental disabilities are not spared if convicted of a crime that attracts a death sentence, and neither are children.

I gave some examples of the appalling treatment of women in the Saudi justice system last time I wrote about that country. The 2014/15 Amnesty International Annual Report states of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi JusticeWomen and girls remained subject to discrimination in law and practice. Women had subordinate status to men under the law, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, and they were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. Domestic violence reportedly remained endemic, despite a government awareness-raising campaign launched in 2013. A 2013 law criminalizing domestic violence was not implemented in practice due to a lack of competent authorities to enforce it.

Raif Badawi has become one of the main faces of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign established in January of this year. The focus of that campaign has been to try and force secular democracies like New Zealand, which still has a blasphemy law, to repeal those laws. The fact that we still have a law that can result in a two year prison sentence for insulting religion completely destroys our moral authority when we complain about those laws being enforced elsewhere.

In reality this award for Badawi is a bit of a case of one step forward and ten steps back – those ten steps in this case being fifty lashes of the whip. Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada (they gave her political asylum) with their three children (Terad, Najwa and Miriam). She says she has heard from a reliable source that her husband is now well enough to receive the second allocation of fifty lashes. They were due to be administered on Friday, but appear to have been delayed again. All the previous delays were due to his health, but she does not know if this is the reason they have been delayed again. Her opinion is that he could not survive another fifty lashes.

It is about time the international community put more diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to reform its judiciary. If this is done in the right way, it may result in positive change, so I see this award as a good move.


Amnesty International Poster (Source:


16 Responses to “Winner of the Week – 1 November 2015: Raif Badawi”

  1. Ken says:

    So sad. Badawi could easily have been your worry of the week as well.

  2. Yakaru says:

    I was really happy to see Raif B won that prize. I know there are countless others in jail and being tortured, but this is an important for symbolic as well as normal human reasons.

  3. paxton marshall says:

    Exposure to world opinion is good, but as long as the US supplies the royals with military weapons, there will be no pressure to change. Is Raif being punished for being anti-religious or anti-government?

    • There’s no difference in Saudi. It’s a theocracy, and doesn’t have a code of law in the way we understand it. It’s under Sharia, and they don’t have things like legal precedent, for example. The judge has all the power and decides what the charges are. That’s why there’s been a lot of pressure to charge him with apostasy – many consider that to hold the views he has, he must have abandoned Islam. This is why moderate, let alone liberal, Muslims have such trouble in that country – the Wahhabis are so dominant that anything “less” (if I can use that word) means you’re not a true Muslim.

      From Badawi’s point of view, he was criticizing the way the government is run, and has always maintained he’s a committed Muslim. But in Saudi, that’s of course seen as criticizing Wahhabism. It’s a bit like Protestants vs Catholics in Europe in the 16th century imo.

  4. AU says:

    A mickey-mouse price to make centre-left Western liberals (like Democrats and most New Atheists) feel better about themselves by exposing the human rights abuses by The Other Side.

    Maybe some day when this prize is awarded to someone who exposes the Human Rights abuses committed by the West the prize might actually take on some meaning.

    • I understand your frustration about human rights abuses in the West not being sufficiently exposed. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror more than we do.

      There’s a hierarchy in the West of which countries are worse than others though, and as I live in one that is consistently named one of the best, I’m more secure about calling out others. Also, when my country gets it wrong, we do actually admit our mistakes and make efforts to fix it, not cover it up as seems more usual in the US and some other countries. For example, recently our SIS was doing stuff without the proper warrants – the director discovered it was happening through normal review processes and their systems are being fixed to make sure it can’t happen again, and the whole thing was admitted publicly.

      We’re not perfect by any means, but there is a culture of what used to be called “continuous quality improvement”. (I don’t know if it’s still called that because I’ve been out of the system so long.) The focus is on finding problems and fixing systems so they can’t happen again rather than finding someone to blame (which seems to be the US system).

      Any exposure of human rights abuses is a good thing imo, and it cannot be argued convincingly that Saudi Arabia isn’t one of the worst perpetrators. They deserve to be called out. As far as I’m concerned, their system need to change. Too many are suffering because of it. Also, the West has tended to ignore the appalling abuses there for political expediency, so it’s about time they started to call them out. As far as I’m concerned, it’s good to see it happening.

      • paxton marshall says:

        I agree Heather, that the Saudi regime is one of the most brutal in the world. And by our coddling of them and weapons sales to them, the US and other western nations enable their brutality. The often ignored harm done by the military industrial complex is that not only does it push our own country into wars, but it seeds the rest of the world with lethal weapons for its own profit. Currently SA is using western made weapons to slaughter the long oppressed Houthi Shia minority in Yemen. The Saudis finance the madrassas that train terrorists around the world. 17 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudi. Bin Laden was a Saudi. And yet we whisked the Saudis (including bin Ladens) out of the country after the attack so they wouldn’t experience any retaliation. Saudi Wahhabism has not only targeted the west, but also minority Shia in SA and throughout the Muslim world. That we regard them as allies rather than part of “the axis of evil” has to be one of the most corrupt political bargains in a corrupt political world. Why? Oil of course, but also because of their enmity to Iran and, I think, because of the Saudis implicit support of Israel. Israel has apparently decided it is in its interests to support the dominant Sunnis against the Shia in the mideastern civil war.

        So yes, I’m all for exposing the Saudis human rights abuses. I just think we need to look past these media-driven high profile individual cases to the even more insidious role the Saudi princes, with their money and charm offenses, play in international affairs.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Well said AU: They “feel better about themselves by exposing the human rights abuses by The Other Side.

      Or as Jesus (or Matthew, or whoever wrote the book of Matthew) said “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

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