Can the Sakharov Prize spare a Saudi blogger from 950 lashes?
The Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has joined the ranks of Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.
Yesterday, European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize, its “Nobel,” granted only to standard bearers of human rights and freedom of expression. But the award comes at an unhappy time for Badawi: Saudi courts have sentenced him to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of $266,000 for insulting the monarchy.
Badawi already received 50 of his lashes, and the recognition could save him from suffering the rest, perhaps pushing the Saudis to let him re-join his wife and children who live as political asylees in Canada. Flogging is “the most brutal of sentences, truly torture,” said the President of European Parliament Martin Schulz. “I appeal to the king of Saudi Arabia to grant clemency immediately.” Schulz also said relations between the E.U. and its partners are predicated on respect for human rights.
All fine words for Badawi, but quite hypocritical coming from Schulz.
This is the same E.U. that for decades has been silent in the face of systematic violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia, a country without elected government, that detains thousands of political prisoners and denies political rights to women and religious and ethnic minorities.
It is the same Europe that seeks democracy and freedom in Syria and a harsh punishment for the “brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad.” The Saudis, on the contrary, are untouchable because they’re faithful allies of the West in a strategic region, and because they, along with other monarchs of the Gulf, buy American and European weapons for tens of billions of dollars with their petrodollars. A few months ago, Barack Obama warmly welcomed King Salman to the White House.
Meanwhile, Badawi faces another round of 50 lashes before a crowd of giddy spectators, like the ones who gathered for his first 50 in January near the Al-Jafali Mosque in Jeddah.
On July 30, 2013, Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and “only” 700 lashes. But the following year his sentence, on appeal, was increased to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. The Supreme Court has so far postponed the second installment, apparently because of pressure from international human rights groups and some countries.
But the machinery of “justice” is standing by. Ensaf Haidar, Badawi’s wife, has learned from reliable sources that the next set of lashes is imminent. There’s been no official confirmation for now, but the alarm is not unfounded. Saudi authorities have never indicated they would commute Badawi’s sentence and indeed have angrily denounced “foreign interference,” they say, to impose models alien to the “culture” of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Badawi is guilty of discussing political and religious themes on his website, “Free Saudi Liberals.” Back in 2008, he was convicted of apostasy for denouncing universities and religious schools in the country as laboratories for Wahhabi extremism, one of the most stringent branches of Sunnism.
Badawi is not the only activist in prison. Many others are behind bars serving sentences even tougher than his.
The worst is that of a 21-year-old Shiite, Ali Mohammed Nimr, who was arrested when he was still a minor for taking part in a protest against the kingdom. He awaits death by beheading and crucifixion (in that order). To complicate the situation for Nimr, who confessed his “sins” under torture, is his close relationship with Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shiite imam and famous opponent of the royal family.
There are also fears for the lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, arrested and sentenced last year for “inciting public opinion.” Abulkhair was Raif Badawi’s lawyer, and his arrest is closely related to the blogger’s case. Initially, Abulkhair was sentenced to five years imprisonment, but that sentence was suspended and then, in a surprise twist earlier this year, exacerbated to 15 years by another court that specializes in “terrorism.”
During Arab Spring riots, the Saudi authorities tightened their iron fist, afraid that discontent among the younger subjects would result in more concrete actions. Confronted with this harsh treatment of activists, Brussels pretended not to see. Giving the Sakharov Prize to Badawi only deepens Europe’s hypocrisy.
- Originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Oct. 30 2015
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