Occasionally, even the European Union gets it right. The New York Times reports:
Raif Badawi, a blogger and activist who has been imprisoned and publicly flogged for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s top human rights award, on Thursday.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, who announced the award, called Mr. Badawi “an extremely good man, an exemplary man who has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties,” one that “can only really be described as brutal torture.” Mr. Schulz urged the Saudi king to “immediately grant mercy to Mr. Badawi and to free him so that he can accept the prize.”
He added, “In the case of Mr. Badawi, fundamental human rights are not only not being respected, they are being trodden underfoot.”
Mr. Badawi, 31, was arrested in 2012 — on charges that included apostasy, cybercrime and disobeying his father — after he started a website that criticized the Saudi religious establishment. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. The next year, he was resentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. (He was not convicted of apostasy, which carries a death sentence.)
Badawi’s case is a perfect example of the “justice” at work in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and similar countries. Under sharia law as it governs criminal cases, a single judge can determine guilt and a “proper” punishment based on his own personal interpretation of the Koran — a sure program for combining unchecked plenipotentiary power with religious zealotry. For Badawi, that meant not just a trial for his political speech (freedom of which is, as recent events in Paris have reminded many, an indispensable principle of Western liberalism), but a conviction — or, more accurately, two convictions, and an inexplicably increased punishment on the second occasion.
And to further prove that its system is a slough of intolerance and caprice, Badawi’s attorney (and brother-in-law) Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to ten years in prison in July — for “inciting public opinion,” “insulting the judiciary,” and “undermining the regime and officials.” On Tuesday of this week, five years were added to his sentence for his failure to express remorse.
But in Saudi Arabia and similar societies, the law and the people are in accord: “He was speaking about Allah and his messenger [Mohammed],” says a spectator, explaining Badawi’s offence to a companion, according to a translation of the lashing video. “[It should have been] decapitation,” says the friend. “Yes,” the other agrees, “it should.”
In his essay “Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom,” Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident after whom the EU’s prize is named, wrote:
Intellectual freedom is essential to human society—freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such a trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. . . . Therefore, freedom of thought requires the defense of all thinking and honest people.
Badawi is one of many who continue to sacrifice in that noble work.