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Saudi Arabia Publicly Flogs Liberal Blogger Raif Badawi

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Raif Badawi, a prominent Saudi human rights activist and human rights activist was flogged publicly on Friday. He received the first 50 out of 1,000 lashes to which he has been sentenced.

According to a witness, his hands and feet were shackled. The witness, who spoke to AFP on a condition of anonymity, said that he didn’t cry out during the flogging.

Raif Badawi’s “crime” was moderating an internet forum that encouraged participants to voice their opinion about religion in the kingdom.

He 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.

Originally he was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, including three months imprisonment for “parental disobedience.”

Yet an appeals court later raised the sentence to 1,000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment as well as a fine of one million rials ($266,600).

The lashing of Badawi was condemned by international human rights groups and governments worldwide. Yet despite international condemnation and calls to desist, the Saudi government upheld the sentence and continued with the lashing anyway.

Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in an official statement, “The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law.”

The White House press spokesperson Jen Psaki issued a statement condemning the brutal lashing.

“We are greatly concerned by reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of a 1,000 lashes, in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion,” Psaki said.  “The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence.”

She added that, “The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice.”

At the time of the initial sentence, Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said, “This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue.”

A piece in the New Yorker directly criticized that dichotomy this week, pointing out the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo attack given this week’s lashing of Mr. Badawi. It noted wryly that “As with Charlie Hebdo, Badawi’s offense involved the exercise of freedom of expression, often with a touch of sarcasm.”

Raif Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, has also been arrested by the regime for his activism, of which defending Raif Badawi was only a small part. Another of Mr. al-Khair’s famous cases was to free Samar Badawi, Raif’s sister, who was imprisoned for disobeying her father, despite the fact that he sexually abused her for 15 years. Mr. al-Khair and Samar Badawi later married.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

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David Harris

David Harris is the editor in chief of Clarion Project.