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Prominent US Figures to Saudis: Release Badawi or Lash Us

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Seven prominent advocates of religious freedom have signed and presented a letter to the ambassador of Saudi Arabia calling on the desert kingdom to immediately release Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of one million rials ($266,600). The letter states that if Badawi is not released, the signatories of the letter are asking that the Saudis lash them instead. 

Badawi's "crime" was moderating an internet forum that encouraged participants to voice their opinion about religion in the kingdom.

The signatories to the letter are Princeton Law Professor Robert P. George; Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon; Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Daniel I. Mark, who teaches political science at Villanova University; Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota; Hannah Rosenthal, CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; and Katrina Lantos Swett, president of The Lantos Foundation.

The signatories requested a dismissal of his punishment, but further stated that in the absence of a full dismissal, each signatory was requesting to receive 100 lashes in the place of Badawi.

All the signatories are members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a body that monitors the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provides policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. 

The 1,000 lashes are being delivered publicly on a weekly basis, every Friday, in a front of a mosque in Jeddah. Hands and feet shackled, Badawi received the first 50 of the lashes on January 9. The second round of 50, scheduled for January 16 was delayed after a doctor determined that his "wounds had not yet healed properly [from the first round of lashing] and that he would not be able to withstand another round of lashes at this time."

Badawi, 31, and the father of three small children, founded the online forum “Free Saudi Liberals” in 2008 which encouraged open debate about issues that are normally considered taboo in the heavily regulated Wahhabi kingdom.

The letter sent to the Saudi ambassador noted that Saudi Arabia was represented by highly placed government officials in the recent Paris march "protesting the brutal murders in the name of Islam."

It described the march as a "demonstration in support of human rights and civil liberties, including the liberty to criticize religion, particular religions, schools of thought within religions, and religious figures and leaders … And yet, we note with sorrow that in the Kingdom itself, Raif Badawi stands condemned under rules that flagrantly violate these human rights and civil liberties and is being subjected to an unspeakably cruel punishment of 1000 lashes.”

Jasser’s organization, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) which advocates for the American Constitution and the separation of “mosque and state,” has called on the United States to do more for Badawi. If not, they charge, Badawi will inevitably die a “slow and painful death over words on a website in the name of Islam.”

The AIFD finds “no difference between the crimes committed by the Islamist terrorists in Paris who assassinated cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the crimes against humanity committed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the name of blasphemy against innocent heroes for religious liberty like Raif Badawi.”

Addressing the need for the Saudi government to recognize universal human rights, the letter concludes, "We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi's unjust punishment."

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org