Saudi blogger Raif Badawi awarded PEN Pinter Prize with James Fenton

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi awarded PEN Pinter Prize with James Fenton

Saudi blogger and activist Raif Badawi will share the 2015 PEN Pinter Prize with British poet, journalist and literary critic James Fenton. 

Badawi was named the 2015 International Writer of Courage, selected by Fenton from a shortlist of international cases of concern supported by English PEN, during a public event held this evening at the British Library in London. 

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and campaigner for Raif Badawi, accepted the award on behalf of the family, and praised Badawi for his "use of words to fight for a change." He used the opportunity to appeal the Saudi government for his release, closing that "blogging is not a crime and freedom of expression cannot be defeated with lashing."

Badawi was imprisoned in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2012, and in May 2014 received a fine of 1 million riyals (£175,000), a 10-year prison sentence and 1000 lashes for ‘violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought’. His public flogging, on 9th January of this year, sparked global outrage - and since, the campaign for his case, spearheaded by his wife Ensaf Haidar, has gathered international support and led to condemnation of the Saudi government. 

Fenton – announced as the 2015 PEN Pinter Prize winner in June, and who officially accepted his award tonight – highlighted Badawi’s courage during his address at the British Library: 

“What moved me was the contrast between the simplicity of Badawi’s liberal aims –their modesty, almost – and the ferocity of the punishments they have brought down on him. Imprisonment, astonishing fines, corporal punishment designed to break either the spirit or the body first and to act as a chill warning to others. It is a world of inconceivable cruelty, but intimately linked to ours by business, strategic interests, military and diplomatic ties. For our part, then, protest has a purpose and – who knows? – perhaps even a chance of some sort of success.”

An anthology of his writings, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, was published in the UK this September by Greystone Books with all proceeds being donated to his family to aid their efforts for his release.

Badawi’s wife, who obtained political asylum with their three children in 2013, said in a filmed statement shown at the event:

"I speak to you today from Quebec, my heart and mind dominated by one concern – to defend my husband, Raif Badawi, who is in his third year in prison solely for exercising his right to express himself. Raif is just a peace-loving intellectual who was not content to be part of the flock or to follow men of religion who are out of touch with the real world and who rule through laws that are unjust and despotic. He was brave enough to speak out and say no to their brutality and oppression, and their only response was to punish his frail body with the whips of their ignorance. The fifty lashes he received have been enough to ignite massive protests that have still not subsided. From Korea to Australia and the farthest reaches of Canada, people of all kinds have cried, “I am Raif”.

"I am honoured to accept the PEN Pinter Prize from English PEN, and I would like to thank the British poet James Fenton for choosing Raif as his co-winner, as 2015 International Writer of Courage."

The 2015 PEN Pinter judges were Susannah Clapp, Sam Leith, Hisham Matar, Antonia Fraser and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely. Freely commented: 

"When Raif Badawi says what he thinks, he and his family pay a terrible price. But we who campaign for him cherish the thoughts he has shared with us, and we hope that this prize will help to secure his freedom."