Raif Badawi: Can Sakharov Prize help free the Saudi blogger?

05'20" 16/12/2015
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Ensar Haidar, wife of this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought laureate Raif Badawi, tells EPTV of his harrowing situation and hope for release in early 2016.
This year's laureate for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought won't be collecting the prize in person. Instead, Raif Badawi, a blogger from Saudi Arabia, is reportedly in solitary confinement and on hunger strike. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for breaching Saudi technology laws and insulting Islam. He received the first 50 lashes earlier this year. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who moved to Canada with their three children, will collect the prize on his behalf.

She spoke to EuroparlTV before the ceremony at Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg. Ensaf Haidar, many thanks for joining us. Could I ask you first of all to set the scene for us? Could you describe, for people who don't know your husband, what sort of person he is and what sort of person you think he has become? Of course, for a man who has been away from his children for four years and who is in prison in Saudi Arabia, things are very difficult.

He's been sentenced to harsh imprisonments, he was subject to 50 lashes in front of a mosque following the noon prayer and even now we don't know what situation he is in. We don't know anything about his future, his health is poor and we miss him greatly. It appears that he has been moved into some kind of isolation unit. What is your understanding of conditions there? And there was also talk that he was on hunger strike, is that also the case? Since Raif is not a criminal nor a terrorist, doesn't deserved to be imprisoned and freedom was within reach - he was going to join us to Canada - I was rather taken aback last week that he has been transferred to another prison.

However, I still hope that he will be freed soon. I personally hope that the Saudi government and King Salman will issue a pardon in the beginning of the new year. Your husband has been awarded the 2015 Sakharov Prize. What difference do you think that has made or will make in the future? The Sakharov Prize is a great prize and I take pride in it. And for me, it heralds freedom for Raif and it is the first signal, perhaps, of his imminent release. Last week I spoke to Raif and told him about the prize and I had hoped that he would be here to receive it and that he would have a chance to speak.

Still, I think that his freedom is near. I would like to go back to an earlier question about his being on hunger strike. He started the hunger strike on Tuesday. I haven't been in contact with him recently, not since his transfer to the second prison but I very much hope that he has called off the hunger strike as he can't sustain it in his health. I hope he would suspend it, and that his health has improved. What do you think the European countries, many of whom sell arms to Saudi Arabia, should be doing in response to the crackdown against free thinkers like your husband? Well, I would thank all countries that have interceded with the Saudi Arabian government about the release of Raif.

And as I said, I very much hope that he will be freed very soon and I hope that he will be with us at the beginning of 2016. And do you think that they should be taking stronger action than behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure? I very much hope that they address the Saudi Arabian government directly for the release of Raif, and that they take any steps that could lead to that. Just one final question. We saw over the weekend that 14 women were elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia, the first time this has ever happened. When you see developments like that, does that give you any optimism at all? I congratulate the women who have been elected in the local elections.

I very much hope that Saudi women will be given the chance to be equal to men in all areas of life.