In May 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” and “founding a liberal website.” The lashes were to be administered 50 at a time, and the first flogging was delivered as scheduled on January 9, 2015. The governments of the USA, Canada, Germany, and Norway, among others, issued condemnations. Subsequent sessions scheduled to take place weekly were postponed indefinitely out of fears for Badawi’s health.
Raif Badawi is a Saudi blogger and activist who co-founded and edited the web forum Liberal Saudi Network, an outlet meant to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested on June 17, 2012, after organizing a “Day of Liberalism” Conference which was ultimately banned by the authorities. He was charged with “insulting Islam,” “founding a liberal website,” and “adopting liberal thought.” On July 29, 2013, a court in Jeddah convicted and sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes. The judge also ordered that his website, Liberal Saudi Network, be shut down.
Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, submitted an appeal citing procedural and evidence-based reasons why the conviction should be overturned and Badawi should be freed. In December 2013, the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the District Court in Jeddah, ordering that Badawi’s case be sent for review by another court. On May 7, 2014, Jeddah’s Criminal Court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (approx. US$266,631) on charges of “insulting Islam” and “founding a liberal website.” Additionally, following his release, Badawi will be subject to a 10-year travel ban and a 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic, and written media.
The 1,000 lashes, originally to be carried out in 50-lash sessions once a week for 20 weeks, stopped after the first session on January 9, 2015, out of fears for Badawi’s health. Born in 1984, Badawi suffers from diabetes, and is reported to be in poor health, greatly exacerbated by the lashings.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and three children sought asylum in Canada after his arrest, and Haidar continues to campaign for her husband’s release from Québec, where she maintains his official Twitter account.
Raif Badawi is an honorary member of PEN Canada, Danish PEN, and German PEN, as well as the winner of the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Prize for Press Freedom in the “Netizen” Category, the 2014 One Humanity Award from PEN Canada, and the 2015 Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament.
For more information about his case, read PEN International’s interview with Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar here.
PEN also calls for the release of Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, arrested on April 15, 2014.