Saudi blogger to face 1,000 lashes despite global protest

By Efrosini Costa

Saudi blogger to face 1,000 lashes despite global protest
A Saudi blogger faces 1,000 lashes for promoting free speech in the autocratic kingdom.

Raif Badawi has been sentenced to serve a 10 year jail term and endure 1,000 lashes for creating a website that championed free speech in the autocratic kingdom .

Badawi has already faced his first round of 50 lashes and has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday.

The husband and father of three was arrested in 2012 and his blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, was shutdown.

The first floggings attracted worldwide attention as they happened in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, which led to much discussion over freedom of speech and expression as well as Muslim sensitivities.

Badawi’s blog, published in Arabic, reportedly questioned the central role that religion plays in everyday life for Saudis and the power of the Muslim religious  establishment.

He was charged over the content posted on his site, including one article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police as well as failing to remove ‘offensive’ comments and posts by others.

The prosecution originally called for him to be tried for “apostasy” or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

The husband and father of three will  face 50 more lashes outside a mosque in his hometown of Jeddah. That is unless a prison doctor determines he is not yet fit to face another round of punishment owing to injuries he sustained last friday.

Ensaf Haidar, Badawi’s wife who now resides in Canada, has told Amnesty International that she fears her husband may not be able to physically withstand more punishment.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor. I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial; I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off.”

The Saudi government has ignored all international pressure from Western governments like the US and Britain, who have called for the punishment to be dropped.  Yet there has been no sign of diplomatic action against Riyadh, Amnesty International has urged the British government to challenge the Saudi government over the case.

x“David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear – that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail. At the very least the Foreign Office should be calling in the Saudi ambassador and telling him all this in person if they haven’t already done so,” said Amnesty’s Kate Allen.

Liberal Saudis have been left shocked by the severity of punishment and the way the case has been handled.

“A lot of people are surprised that this took place immediately after the killings in Paris,” one Saudi told reporters.

“It’s not good PR for the kingdom. OK, this is not flogging with a cat o’nine tails, but there is a lot of disappointment.”

“The theory is that the government is doing this to send a message to hardliners that they are cracking down on everybody, not just religious extremists. But that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. These people are liberals who want stability and progress but reform as well. They love their country. They don’t hide.”



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