Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been named the first winner of the IPA Prix Voltaire, previously known as the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize.
English PEN president Maureen Freely, presenting the award earlier this evening (Sunday 10th April) at the International Publishers Congress dinner in London, said Badawi fully embodied the values and courage that the prize seeks to honour.
Badawi set up the now-closed secular website Free Saudi Liberals as a forum to facilitate political and religious debate in repressive Saudi Arabia. He is currently two years into a 10-year prison term for hosting online commentary deemed blasphemous, and has endured 50 lashes out of a sentence of 1,000.
Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar Mohamed collected the prize of 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,300) on behalf of her husband. She said: "It's very touching, and encouraging, to see Raif's courage being recognised by the international publishing community. We will use this money to keep fighting for my husband's release and to highlight the cruel suffering of free speech advocates in Saudi Arabia."
Maureen Freely presents Raif Badawi's award to his wife Ensaf Haidar Mohamed
Ola Wallin, chair of the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee, said: "We had many deserving candidates this year, but clearly Raif's disgraceful ongoing punishment and the extreme risk he ran to express his ideas – and those of other free thinkers – caught the imagination of the IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee." IPA president Richard Charkin added: "The worldwide publishing community will continue to highlight the plight of oppressed publishers and writers like Raif. If we don't, unscrupulous regimes everywhere will only tighten their grip further."
Saudi Arabia was voted a full member of the IPA at the last Frankfurt Book Fair, amidst mixed opinions from the IPA membership.
The Freedom to Publish prize was created in 2005 to honour a person or organization that has made an important contribution to the defence and promotion of that freedom. This year it has been renamed the IPA Prix Voltaire, in tribute to the French philosopher and writer who preached a doctrine of tolerance and free expression. In the 1750s, Voltaire lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where the IPA is based.
Ben Steward, the IPA's director of communications and the Freedom to Publish programme, explained the name change. "Over the coming years we'll be working to further raise the profile and stature of the prize, while also making it say more about the IPA itself," he told The Bookseller. "This means hopefully increasing the prize money, and finding new ways to highlight its relevance. Within this picture, we sought a name that would reflect the IPA's position as a truly European, global organisation, while paying tribute to Geneva, where we're based. To this end, Voltaire's pioneering free speech vision and his historical ties to Geneva are a perfect fit for the prize."
Sponsoring the prize this year were Swedish publisher Bonnier, Elsevier, HarperCollins, Japanese publisher Kodansha, Oxford University Press, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Springer Nature. Charkin proffered them his "grateful thanks", saying the prize would not be possible without them.
The prize has been sponsored by publishers since 2013, allowing an increase in the size of the prize award.