Saudi Blogger's Flogging Postponed Again

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, January 30, 2015

Updated at 3:53 pm (GMT+2): Saudi Arabia postponed Friday for a third week in a row the flogging of a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, his wife said.

Raif Badawi "was not flogged" on Friday, his wife Ensaf Haidar told AFP, adding that the reason was unclear.

Badawi, 31, a blogger and founder of the "Free Saudi Liberals" website, received 50 lashes on January 9. The second of 20 rounds in total had already been postponed twice on medical grounds.

A day earlier, Haidar had warned 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," said Haidar, who lives with her three children in Canada after being offered refuge.

"I am very concerned about him. It is impossible for a human being to withstand 50 lashes every week," she told a news conference in Ottawa, adding that Badawi was suffering from high blood pressure.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 for offenses including” insulting Islam,” cyber crime and “disobeying his father,” which is a crime in US-ally Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000) and the flogging. His blog has since been shut down.

Badawi studied economics and ran an English-language and computer learning institute, his wife said.

But he found his calling as a writer, focusing on free speech.

"He wanted dialogue among people. He wanted free speech and rights for women and all human beings. This is what always motivated him" and is why he created the Saudi Liberal Network, Haidar said.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the Internet site which Badawi co-founded as "an online discussion network whose aim is to encourage political, religious and social debates in Saudi Arabia."

RSF last year named Badawi one of three winners of its press freedom prize.

Haidar, speaking through a translator, called on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene with new Saudi King Salman to have her husband released.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on January 14 called for clemency in the Badawi case, saying the flogging was "a violation of human dignity and freedom of expression."

Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International's Canadian branch, said 150,000 people in Canada had signed a petition demanding the Saudis free Badawi.

The NGO said on Thursday Badawi could suffer "debilitating long-term physical and mental damage" from continued flogging, which violates international law.

"Raef Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, whose only 'crime' was to set up a website for public discussion," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed earlier in January the punishment inflicted on Badawi, calling on the Saudi monarchy to pardon him.

"Flogging is in my view at very least a form of cruel and inhuman punishment," High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement. As such, it was banned under international rights law, he added.

"I appeal to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Mr. Badawi, and to urgently review this type of extraordinary harsh penalty," said Zeid, a former Jordanian diplomat.

In the past years Saudi authorities have been criticized by international rights groups for jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organization to damaging the reputation of the country.

Saudi Arabia's legal code follows a strict version of Sharia according to its Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Judges are trained as religious scholars and have a broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of religious texts.

Human rights organizations and activists have called on Saudi Arabia to end death sentences and other brutal punishments, accusing the Saudi regime of curbing freedom of speech and opinion.

Western-allied Saudi Arabia has beheaded 13 since the start of 2015. Last year, the oil-rich kingdom executed 87 people, up from 78 in 2013, according to an AFP tally. Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are punishable by death in the kingdom.

Political activism can also be penalized by death, as Saudi Arabia, like neighboring Bahrain, has taken a zero tolerance approach to all attempts at protest or dissent in the kingdom.

In 2014, Saudi judges passed death sentences down to five pro-democracy advocates, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, for their part in protests.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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