A Prize for Raif Badawi

BREAKING NEWS: Raif Badawi was named on Tuesday as the International Writer of Courage and PEN Pinter Prize co-recipient for 2015 by English PEN, the human rights and freedom of expression organization. The poet James Fenton was named the winner in June, but the tradition has been that the winner select a co-winner. Fenton selected Raif Badawi.

The awards were given out today, about an hour ago. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, accepted the award on behalf of Raif and his family. Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife, recorded a video message which was shown; she is in Europe continuing her never-ending campaign for his release and was in Vienna today to receive an award from the Austrian Freethinker Association.

In a statement Fenton wrote,

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.

Jimmy Wales said,

Raif Badawi used words to fight for a change. His non-violent campaign for a better future to his country encountered an exceptionally violent response by the Saudi government. Raif should have been honoured for founding a website that allowed healthy public discourse in Saudi Arabia; he should not have been held behind bars, facing flogging. This injustice must be corrected. I am honoured to accept the PEN award on behalf of Raif and deeply regret that he is unable to personally accept it himself.

PEN provided a translation of Ensaf Haidar’s acceptance:

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.

Friday, October 9, will be the nine-month anniversary of Raif Badawi’s first and so far only flogging session. English PEN announced today that it will holding one of its “regular vigils” outside the Saudi Embassy in London on behalf of Raif and his lawyer/brother-in-law Waleed Abulkhair, who is also in prison for fighting for human rights. The vigil will start at 9:00 a.m. London time and supporters are asked to meet at the Curzon Street entrance to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mayfair, London (note: the postal address of the Embassy is 30-32 Charles Street).

Fridays are also the day that the Saudi legal system delivers corporal and capital punishments. This Friday is also scheduled to be the day that the name of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient will be announced.

The Pinter Award was established in 2009 in honor of the late playwright and human rights activist Harold Pinter.

* * * *
In these nine months, I have written and published the following articles concerning Raif Badawi and his cruel treatment at the hands of an anti-human rights theocracy:

 September 14: Award Raif Badawi the Nobel Peace Prize
August 18: Tortured
June 17: Three Years in Prison for Blogging
June 10: An Urgent Need for Action
June 7: A Sense of Injustice
June 1: Speak out for Those Who Can’t
May 7: Ignite the Light
April 3: We Want Life
March 13: Raif Badawi and Official Cruelty
March 6: Raif Badawi Remains a Prisoner
February 20: 1000 Days
February 6: #FreeRaif, Week 5
January 31: Raif Badawi, Week 3
January 22: An Update about Raif Badawi
January 12: For Raif Badawi

* * * *
A Recording
In September, I recorded myself reading one essay from Raif Badawi’s book, “1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think.” The mic on this laptop is not strong, and my voice … well, there I am holding a copy of the book. Get yourself a copy.

* * * *
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.

Follow The Gad About Town on Instagram!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. lifelessons · October 6, 2015

    Where is Raif’s wife? Is she risking imprisonment as well? That this new prize is well-deserved as were the others is an understatement. Let’s hope that the attention brings about his release.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 6, 2015

      Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar lives with their three girls (the oldest is 10) in Sherbrooke, Quebec. After his first arrest (in 2008, I think) he was freed with no charges, but then he was forbidden to travel. A human rights organization helped Ensaf and the children; the apartment they located was in Canada, so that is where they reside. Her English is very limited. Sherbrooke has already awarded Raif citizenship; of course the promise of a big hug hello is not strong enough to unlock the shackles of a jailer not saying goodbye and pry him from another country.

      So Ensaf is safe and she travels the world working to convince powerful people to help free her husband. She has set up a foundation and has begun to speak out on other similar stories of imprisoned writers. I ran a photo of her “holding” the moon for Raif in a recent piece of mine; she used it in an essay today: http://www.fondationraifbadawi.org/leaving/.

      They are both only about 30 years old. Her family, her parents back home in S.A., they have rejected her. His parents have as well. (When I get complaints on Twitter from pro-flogging advocates in Saudi Arabia, they always mention this, that his own father has renounced him. I reply that he probably did so under duress.)

      Raif’s sister, Samar Badawi, is someone I have not written about, but I always include her name. She has begun to receive recognition. Her husband is Raif’s lawyer, Waleed Albulkhair, who is also in prison for starting a firm that investigated human rights abuses. Samar still lives in Saudi Arabia, but she speaks out regularly about human rights issues for women. She received an award in Istanbul last month for her work, but she is forbidden from leaving Saudi Arabia, so she could not accept it in person.

      Both Ensaf and Samar are friends of mine on Facebook and have said thank you to me a couple times. I always thank them.

      The question for Saudi Arabia is, it seems to me, what to do? These cases are getting attention. Their abuses are being written about and Tweeted very soon after they happen, almost as quickly as when things happen with authorities here. Does the government decide to declare that outside complaints are just that, outside, and go ahead and carry out punishments? No government official in any position in any country that does serious business with S.A. has promised repercussions. As of right now, it is a public relations gamble and Saudi Arabia seems to be playing a waiting game, awaiting the day when these stories and protests quiet down and we all seem to have forgotten Raif and Waleed and the other prisoners of conscience being tortured, so they can carry out their ugly sentences.

      Thanks for helping me clarify some things further, Judy.


      • lifelessons · October 6, 2015

        Thanks for doing so, Mark. I am worried that these Zealots will be driven to carry out their sentence as a protest against protests. I haven’t wanted to mention this, but I’m sure his wife must have thought of it at times…the very thing that keeps people from speaking out, but this seems to be a brave young couple. As for his family and hers, I had thought exactly the same thing. How can they not renounce them if they cannot leave Saudi Arabia? If I had to renounce something I believe in or face imprisonment or flogging, I’m afraid I would do so. I would know what I really believed, but sometimes the only way to deal with something is to go underground. I’m not sayng this is right–just that I know the extent of my own bravery. If Raif knew what he would face–knew what he knows now–I wonder if he still would have had the courage to write what he did while still in Saudi Arabia? If so, he is indeed even a braver young man than he has already demonstrated. Can any of his family speak to him? Is he aware of everything that is going on in support of him? The world could use some good news. Would that his release were that good news. Thanks again for all you do to work toward that event. (I’m sure you have answered all these questions in past posts, but my memory being what it is, I need a refreshing of details!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mark Aldrich · October 6, 2015

          Ensaf speaks to him on the phone, but according to her it has been less regular through this year, especially after he was whipped back in January. He managed to dictate a new essay to her, which was used as the intro to his book (only $8 a copy; sales go to support his family)–for a moment it looked like publishing this intro was going to be interpreted by the authorities as “new” writing and thus serve as the spur to bring new charges. So far, this has not happened. He describes life in jail a little bit in it.

          I think he would write what he did, because what he wrote is, as Fenton said today, so modest. Things like “Liberalism means live and let live,” which is common sense to my ears but radical in his world. There is nothing in his book an average American would find radical; if one took his name and circumstances away from the book, it would not be terribly noteworthy. But for someone in a theocracy to write that all religions are just different paths, well, that was hugely dangerous for them. The quiet ones are the dangerous ones.


        • lifelessons · October 6, 2015

          That was the reaction I had to his writing you quoted today. Unbelievable that such rational humanistic words would be considered blasphemy! New Hitlers are born every day and when they carry religious conviction that their way is the only way along with that totalitarian power–Watch out.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Saudi Youths Sentenced to Die: Updated 10/12 | The Gad About Town
  3. Pingback: #SaveThe3: More Saudi Executions Loom | The Gad About Town

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.