A Saudi blogger sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim clerics has won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

EU lawmakers said Thursday that they had chosen to honour Raif Badawi as a symbol of the fight for freedom of speech. The prize was to be announced publicly later at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

“2015 #SakharovPrize awarded to @raif_badawi Deserved recognition of his role; also strong message to Saudi regime,” The Greens/European Alliance parliamentary group said in a tweeted message shortly before the official announcement.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc, added: “The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities.”

“We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging.”

The Freedom of Thought award is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. It was set up in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Badawi was one of three nominees for the prize, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, and assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.


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