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Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam, was awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize today. The 31-year-old blogger, who was arrested in 2012, is an outspoken advocate of free speech whose public flogging in January triggered international outrage when he was subjected to a first round of 50 lashes. Announcing the award, parliament chief Martin Schulz called on Saudi King Salman to immediately release Badawi, denouncing his sentence as "brutal torture" and demanding that Riyadh live up to Europe's standards on human rights. "This man has had... Imposed on him one of the most cruel penalities which can only be described as brutal torture," Schulz said. "I call on the Saudi king to immediately free him." Watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) echoed the call, urging King Salman to pardon the father of three. Badawi, who co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network Internet discussion group, was detained in 2012 on cyber crime charges. Like most Saudis, Badawi is a Sunni Muslim but his network had announced a "day of liberalism" and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in the kingdom. He was arrested and the website shut down on grounds it criticised Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police. He was initially charged in 2013, and last year a Saudi court sentenced him to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who fled to Canada with his children, hailed the award as "a message of hope and courage" which came just two days after she warned that her husband's flogging was expected to resume. Citing an informed source, Haidar on Tuesday said Saudi authorities had "given the green light to the resumption of Raif Badawi's flogging", saying it would take place "soon" at the prison where he is being held.
The information was posted on a website dedicated to her husband's plight. The award was also hailed by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) which said he had 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," said FIDH president Karim Lahiji. Born on January 13, 1984, Badawi studied economics then went on to run an English-language and computer learning institute, says Haidar, who married him in 2001. He eventually found his calling as a writer, focusing on free speech.