By Lara Kajs
The flogging of Raif Badawi has outraged the world and led to a global appeal for his release.
A blogger, Badawi founded the Saudi Free Liberals Forum in 2008 – shut down after his arrest in 2012 – which promoted free speech and online debate on religion and politics in Saudi Arabia. He was charged with insulting Islam and disobedience in 2012 and was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but in May 2014 his sentence was increased to 10 years, a £177,000 fine, and 1,000 lashes to be delivered at 50 lashes every Friday for 18 weeks.
On 9 January, Badawi received the first 50 lashes in front of the al-Jafali mosque in the city of Jeddah. Reports indicate a shackled Badawi, dressed in a white shirt standing as an officer beat him repeatedly with a stick. Witnesses state that Badawi did not cry out, but stood silently and took the lashes. The second round of flogging was postponed by authorities because doctors said his wounds had not healed from the previous weeks’ flogging and they did not feel he would withstand additional flogging.
To be clear, they postponed the flogging because he was not well enough to be flogged.
Prisoner of Conscience
Raif Badawi’s case has spurred an outcry around the world. Amnesty International adopted Badawi as a prisoner of conscience and was one of ten cases in their Write 4 Rights campaign in December 2014. Last week, a letter signed by 18 Nobel Laureates was published in The Independent urging others to stand up for Badawi and argue for free speech.
The global campaign to appeal to the humanity of the Saudi King to overturn Badawi’s sentence and immediately release the father of three has been underway since he was sentenced last May. However, on Friday, 23 January, King Abdullah died at the age of 90 and was succeeded by his half-brother King Salman. At this time, it is unclear whether the new Saudi King will change any of the policies that have earned Saudi Arabia the criticism of many human rights groups.
Badawi’s case is not the only instance where an individual has been punished for speaking out freely and questioning the precept of the orthodoxy. A Saudi court carried out the beheading of Nimr al-Nimr for “breaking allegiance with the ruler.” And to be fair, Saudi Arabia is not the only country inflicting inhumane behavior. In Libya, two journalists were beheaded and of course the world has watched as ISIS has carried out multiple beheadings in Iraq and Syria.
What does this mean for Raif Badawi?
Badawi’s flogging was to resume on Friday, 23 January; however it was postponed for a second time, once again due to medical reasons. The case has been referred to the Saudi supreme court, but the question remains whether or not the Saudis will carry out the full punishment. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, of the Jordanian royal family has publicly denounced the flogging stating that it is a “form of cruel and inhuman punishment.”
Allies of Saudi Arabia could play a more significant role in the situation. Although both the U.S. and Great Britain have condemned Badawi’s flogging, they have lacked credible persuasion, by neglecting to exercise any influence on the Saudi government to alter its intent on carrying out such cruel and serious human rights abuses.
The Genocide Report stands with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and human rights organizations around the world, and implore the Saudi King to pardon and release Raif Badawi immediately.