Raif Badawi’s torture
Last May the liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to one thousand lashes along with ten years in prison and a one million riyals fine for ‘insulting Islam’ and setting up a web forum called the Liberal Saudi Network.
You know what that sounds like? Why it sounds like the action against the founder of the Freethinker, G W Foote.
In 1882 Foote was charged with blasphemy for having published a number of biblical cartoons in The Freethinker. These had been modelled after a series of French cartoons that had appeared earlier. After a series of trials Foote was found guilty in 1883 and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Justice North, a Catholic judge. (‘The sentence is worthy of your creed,’ Foote responded.) The Freethinker carried the banner headline ‘Prosecuted for Blasphemy’ during this period, probably increasing its sales.
French cartoons, even. However the lashings were not included, and the sentence was a tenth of the Saudi one. Maybe in another 130 years Saudi Arabia will be a little more mild.
The lashes were to be divided into twenty sessions of 50 lashes each, to be given on successive Fridays – very sensibly since a thousand lashes delivered all at once would of course be fatal. It’s nice that the Saudis are so careful.
Raif received the first 50 lashes on Friday, January 9. It’s fitting, in a way, that this was two days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, so that we could get all the horror in a concentrated dose.
There was no consoling surprise – no news that it wasn’t all that bad to be hit on the back with a stick 50 times. It was bad. It was so bad that when the doctors checked his condition the following week to make sure he was medically fit to be flogged again, they found that he wasn’t.
It was, indeed, so bad that the doctors again found him medically unfit to be flogged again the following week. Just imagine: the wounds caused by 50 heavy blows with a stick on naked skin don’t fully heal in two weeks.
His wife, Ensaf Haidar, pictured above, said last Thursday that her husband’s health had worsened after the first round of flogging and that he could not survive the full punishment.
Raif’s health condition is bad and it’s getting worse and worse.
The following day the next round of flogging was again postponed.
There have been protests all along – since he was arrested, since the first sentencing, since the second sentencing which increased all the punishments, and all the more since the first flogging. The protests are spreading and increasing; one can only hope they’re a massive headache for the Saudi authorities.
Raif’s wife and their three children are out of the country, safe in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Ensaf is working hard on rallying support for Raif, and letting us know how he’s doing. She told the Independent that their own front page story on Raif had moved him to tears.
Ensaf, who was forced to flee Saudi Arabia with the couple’s three children, said she last spoke to her husband ago over the phone after he received his first 50 lashes. He told her he was still “a little bit sick” but generally “fine”.
She added that she had started to tell him about the international attention his case was attracting – but was surprised at his emotional reaction when he heard that the Independent was campaigning for his release. She wrote:
I want to thank you for supporting my husband. For many years, one of Raif’s dreams was to write an article for the the Independent. When I told him that the Independent wrote on its front page ‘Free Raif Badawi’, he was crying and he told me about his dream. So many, many thanks.
Later, however, she reported worrying news on Facebook:
Important-Urgent: We received information that last Friday #?RaifBadawi was subjected to a third medical examination to see if he was fit for a second session of lashing!
This surprising/unsettling examination came despite the conclusion of a previous medical check that was done two days earlier which recommended the stopping of any future flogging. #RaifBadawi.
Strangely, the doctor conducting the examination wanted to sign the paper and approve the flogging, but due to discussions that took place and the previous medical report, he finally agreed to postpone the flogging for a further medical examination!
Will it make any difference that King Abdullah died in January and was replaced by King Salman? Probably not. Will the heads of state going to Riyadh to pay their respects to King Abdullah do anything to encourage the Saudis to stop torturing Raif? No. The BBC reports that Obama did not mention the subject in his chat with the new absolute monarch (aka dictator).
Mr Obama stressed the importance of human rights, US officials added, but did not raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
So human rights are important and we stress that importance, but an actual ongoing case of gross violations of human rights – well that we just won’t mention.
What can the rest of us do? Keep yelling; keep making it hot for the absolute monarchs and their Wahhabi friends.