An empty chair to honour lashed Saudi blogger

When Gold Logie winner Waleed Aly receives Liberty Victoria’s Voltaire award in July he will share the spotlight with a blogger and free speech advocate who is in a cell in Saudi Arabia.

Raif Badawi is serving a 10 year sentence for providing an online platform for political dissent. He will receive Liberty Victoria’s inaugural "Empty Chair" award on Saturday 23 July 2016. 

The new award will go annually alongside the Voltaire award to a worthy recipient of the Voltaire who cannot attend the ceremony because of the consequences of free speech.

Liberty Victoria president George Georgiou SC said: “In making this award to Raif Badawi we remain shocked by the harshness of his treatment and call on the Saudi government to free him.”

Mr Georgiou said the announcement of the Empty Chair award was delayed because Liberty needed to contact Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, in Canada. Ms Haidar has accepted this award on her husband’s behalf in recognition of his plight and celebrating his remarkable courage in the face of oppression.

First detained on apostasy charges in 2008, Mr Badawi was prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia and the next year both his and his wife's bank accounts were frozen. In 2012, he was arrested for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and next cited for apostasy, a conviction which carries an automatic death sentence. Human Rights Watch says that Mr Badawi's website hosted material critical of senior religious figures. 

The website, Free Saudi Liberals, is now closed. As well as a lengthy jail term, he was sentenced two years ago to 1,000 lashes – 50 at a time over 20 weeks – and fined 1m Saudi riyals ($363,000).  The first public flogging led to an international outcry. 

Ms Haidar and their three young children have refugee status in Canada, where they arrived in October 2013.She said that after Mr Badawi was moved to a more isolated prison late last year he went on a hunger strike. 

 Among his awards are the Courage Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression from the Brussels University Alliance, the Press Freedom Prize 2015 from Reporters Without Borders and the Sakharov prize by the European Parliament last year, honouring freedom of thought.

The Voltaire Award and the “Empty Chair” Award will be presented at a dinner at the Carousel Albert Park on 23 July 2016. Tickets are on sale now

For further information, please contact Liberty Victoria Executive Officer Gillian Garner on email