'Most important prize ever' awarded by the Bobs
At the Global Media Forum, DW has honored four international online activists with the prestigious Bobs Awards. In a bittersweet ceremony, it also bestowed its first Freedom of Speech Award on Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
As if to underline the urgent relevance of DW's newly created Freedom of Speech Award, its inaugural recipient could not make the trip to Germany to accept it.
Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old blogger from Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a heavy fine for promoting liberal ideas and criticizing Islam online in May 2014. His case, his conviction and his public flogging in the Saudi city of Jeddah in January caused international outrage and sparked a global campaign for his release.
Deutsche Welle, which had awarded Badawi its first Freedom of Speech Award in February, honored him during its traditional Bobs Awards ceremony at the Global Media Forum in Bonn.
Calling out Saudi Arabia
In his poignant award presentation remarks, Jochen Wegner, editor in chief of zeit.de, minced no words, calling the flogging part of Badawi's sentence "torture" and describing Saudi Arabia as "schizophrenic." While Wegner labeled the ceremony honoring Badawi as "among the most bitter", he also left no doubt as to its gravity and value. "This is the most important prize the Bobs have ever awarded."
Badawi's continued efforts to advocate on behalf of freedom of expression even after having been arrested for suspicion of apostasy in 2012, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, made him into much more than just a fighter for free speech, noted Wegner. "He is also a champion of secularism and of the separation of church and state."
But it is not just Badawi, a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, who is paying dearly for his refusal to keep quiet. His wife Ensar Haidar, under increasing pressure even from family members back home for defending her husband, had to flee Saudi Arabia three years ago. Since 2013 she has been living with the couple's three children in Canada where they have been granted asylum. Haidar, from her Canadian exile, continues to advocate relentlessly for her husband and his release.
Message from Badawi's wife
In a video message for the Bobs ceremony, Ensar Haidar thanked Deutsche Welle and Director General Peter Limbourg for awarding her husband the Freedom of Speech Award and issued a strong message to the international community, politicians and human rights groups.
"Please do not forget Raif! His fate and that of his children is in your hands."
Taking a page from Raif Badawi and Ensar Haidar's struggle, Wegner appealed to the audience. "I very much hope that many journalists and activists try to live up to his example and do not cease dedicating themselves to defending the right to free speech."
He also called on Saudi King Salman "to display his mercifulness" and pardon Badawi.
Wegner's hope to be able to hand the award to a free Raif Badawi was shared also by DW's director general. "I hope I can give this prize to Raif Badawi soon," said Limbourg, who vowed that DW will keep following the Badawi case closely: "The most important thing we can do is to continue to report about his story."