SAUDI blogger and activist, Raif Badawi, currently serving a 7-year prison term for ‘insulting Islam’, may soon appear in a higher court on graver charges of apostasy. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death. The activist’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, revealed in this report that a judge had recommended that Badawi, who was also sentences to 600 lashes, should face graver charges .
Raif Badawi is the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, created in 2008 to freely discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia. His persecution for what was described as “insulting Islam” started the same year the site was set up.
The blogger then fled the country to escape arrest. He returned when the charges against him were dropped, but was eventually jailed in June 2012. In July this year, a criminal court in Jeddah him guilty of insulting Islam through his online forum and of violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law.
The court’s ruling was condemned by international human rights watchdogs. Said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch:
This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue. A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.
Badawi’s possible retrial is the latest episode in the country’s crackdown on dissent. Four members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) were jailed in 2013.
In the most recent case in December, 24-year-old Omar al-Saeed was sentenced to four years in prison and 300 lashes after calling for political reform. Amnesty International called for the activist’s immediate release. After serving his sentence he will be prohibited from travelling for four years.
In a statement released on December 19 AI said:
Amnesty International considers Omar al-Hamid al-Saeed to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his peaceful activities as a member of ACPRA and calls on the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and conditionally release him and to ensure that he is not subjected to flogging or any other corporal punishment.
Earlier, the watchdog criticised Saudi Arabia for failing to follow up on any of its promises to improve the country’s human rights record. The pledges were made following a 2009 review, issued by the UN Human Rights Council. Philip Luther, Director of Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said in October:
Four years ago, Saudi Arabian diplomats came to Geneva and accepted a string of recommendations to improve human rights in the country. Since then, not only have the authorities failed to act, but they have ratcheted up the repression.
Amnesty’s criticism however did not prevent Saudi Arabia from being elected to the UN Human Rights Council in November. Its three-year term in UNHRC starts January 1, 2014.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn