Harsher sentence imposed on Badawi
In July 2013 human rights activist Raif Badawi was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam. His sentence has now been increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes.
Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police. Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “Day of Liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia. He has been languishing in jail since June 2012.
According to this report, the lawsuit against him was instigated by Saudi by clerics. An appeals court overturned the original sentence and sent the case back for the case back for retrial, which culminated in an even harsher sentence.
On Monday a court upheld the 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes – also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).
The rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari said:
The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee. Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence.
Michael De Dora, Director of The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy and the US organisation’s representative to the UN, wrote here:
To make matters worse, the Saudi government also jailed Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Sami Abu Al-Khair, for his human rights activism (we are now also working for his freedom). That left Badawi to defend himself in a criminal justice system that is already stacked against ‘offenders’.
And defend himself he has. Badawi has shown remarkable resilience in the face of a powerful monarchy doing everything it can to crush his morale.
This week, however, we received perhaps our worst news yet: the Saudi appeals court in Mecca confirmed Badawi’s sentence. This means Badawi’s sentence is final, and that Saudi officials could begin to impose lashes on Badawi within several weeks. According to the final decision, Badawi will receive 50 lashes per session, with a break of no less than a week between sessions.
The lashings will be carried out in public after Friday prayers in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that in Saudi Arabia – “a country known as the cradle of Islam, where religion gives legitimacy to the government and state-appointed clerics set rules for social behavior” – a growing number of Saudis are privately declaring themselves atheists.
Said Fahad AlFahad, 31, a marketing consultant and human rights activist:
I know at least six atheists who confirmed that to me. Six or seven years ago, I wouldn’t even have heard one person say that. Not even a best friend would confess that to me.
A Saudi journalist in Riyadh has observed the same trend.
The idea of being irreligious and even atheist is spreading because of the contradiction between what Islamists say and what they do.
The perception that atheism is no longer a taboo subject – at least two Gulf-produced television talk shows recently discussed it – may explain why the government has made talk of atheism a terrorist offence. A March 7 decree from the Ministry of Interior prohibited, among other things:
Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.
The number of people willing to admit to friends to being atheist or to declare themselves atheist online, usually under aliases, is certainly not big enough to be a movement or threaten the government. A 2012 poll by WIN-Gallup International of about 500 Saudis found that 5 percent described themselves as “convinced atheist.” This was well below the global average of 13 percent.
But the greater willingness to privately admit to being atheist reflects a general disillusionment with religion and what one Saudi called “a growing notion” that religion is being misused by authorities to control the population. This disillusionment is seen in a number of ways, ranging from ignoring clerical pronouncements to challenging and even mocking religious leaders on social media.