Sakharov Prize to Raif Badawi calls for stronger EU diplomacy on human rights in Saudi Arabia

(Brussels) The awarding of the Sakharov Prize to Raif Badawi must be a wake up call to European diplomacies.

The European Parliament announced today that the Saudi blogger and human rights defender was the 2016 laureate of its annual Prize for Freedom of Thought. This strong gesture by the European Parliament sheds light on the weaknesses and inconsistencies of European diplomacies concerning human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The creator of the website ’Free Saudi Liberals’, Raif Badawi has played a major role in promoting freedom of expression and attempting to foster public debate in Saudi Arabia.

“Raif has spoken up for all Saudis who simply dream of enjoying the same rights as other human beings. He has paid dearly for his commitment and this Sakharov Prize sends a clear and strong message to his torturers.”

Karim Lahiji, FIDH President

On 7 June 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment for Raif Badawi. The EU diplomatic service (European External Action Service) condemned this decision by demanding the suspension of “any further corporal punishment for Mr Badawi” [1]. However it did not go as far as demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the blogger, condemned to 10 years of imprisonment after an unfair trial.

The European Union and most of its Member States favour a policy of engagement with Saudi Arabia, despite a rise of death penalty sentences and executions. The lack of unanimous condemnation of grave human rights violations in Saudi Arabia demonstrates that economic and strategic interests trump the European Union’s commitment to advance human rights.

“All EU Member States should follow the example of Sweden, which ended its arms deal with Saudi Arabia after the Kingdom attempted to censor its Foreign Minister’s speech on human rights”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

FIDH calls for this Sakharov Prize to be followed by a reassessment of the EU’s approach to Saudi Arabia. There is an urgent need for the EU to adopt a clarified policy to support the independent civil society and human rights defenders, to discuss human rights concerns at top diplomatic level with Saudi officials, and to ensure that human rights violators are held accountable.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament since 1988. The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause.

In 2006, Raif Badawi created the website Free Saudi Liberals. Since then he has been subjected to continuous judicial harassment. In 2012, he was arrested and placed in Jeddah prison on charges of “apostasy” – an offence punishable by death penalty in Saudi Arabia – and “setting up an illegal website”. The web site was later closed by the authorities. In 2013, Raif Badawi was sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes by the District Court in Jeddah. After the Court of Appeals quashed the first instance, a new trial took place. In May 2014, the Jeddah Criminal Court handed down a harsher sentence by increasing the prison term to 10 years and the number of lashes to 1,000. On 9 January 2015, Raif Badawi received 50 lashes outside Al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. On 7 June 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has signed and ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits such acts as flogging. The Kingdom has however not signed a number of key other conventions like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming to the abolition of the death penalty, or the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, which establishes an international inspection system for places of detention.

In March 2015, Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallström took a strong public position on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. This led to a diplomatic clash which included the cancellation of the speech she intended to give on human rights before leaders of the League of Arab States and the suspension of Sweden’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Ms. Wallström denounced the flogging of Raif Badawi, describing it as a “cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression”.
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