Thursday, 8 October 2015

Jailed Saudi Activist Raif Badawi Wins 2015 PEN Pinter Prize

Saudi Arabia, KSA, Raif Badawi, censorship, freedom of expression, liberalism, Free Saudi Liberal Network, persecution
[Source: Amnesty Finland]
Given that the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Prize is awarded annually to an individual persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs, it is no surprise that Raif Badawi was named 2015’s winner on Tuesday.

In 2008, Badawi founded the Free Saudi Liberal Network, a digital platform designed to create space for political, religious and cultural debate within heavily-censored Saudi Arabia. Four years later, Badawi’s free speech activism landed him in prison, where he remains today with a sentence of 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million riyals (approximately $267,000 USD).

Throughout, courage has been Badawi’s defining feature. On the precursor site to the Free Saudi Liberal Network, while others posted anonymously, Badawi chose to use his real name. In 2010, facing a travel ban, frozen assets and unwanted government attention, Badawi simply said, “I am sure that I do not regret what I have done and that there are free people in my nation who stand in the face of injustice and appreciate all those who fight with words for the sake of a better tomorrow.” Most recently, Badawi received the first 50 lashes of his sentence in silence and with his back arched in defiance.

In the words of fellow 2015 PEN Pinter Prize winner James Fenton of the United Kingdom, “What moved me was the contrast between the simplicity of 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.”

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is no stranger to the wrong side of controversy, with recent headlines including the threat of the death penalty for anti-government statements made on Facebook and Twitter, a banned issue of National Geographic for “cultural reasons” and a young man sentenced to die for participating in the Arab Spring protests at the age of 17.

This Friday, October 9, PEN will continue its recognition of Badawi with a vigil in front of the Saudi embassy in London. May this week’s events bring Raif Badawi and his fellow Saudis one step closer to freedom. #FreeRaif

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