Originally published on January 11, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Fearing a resurgence of the 2011 Arab Spring upheaval, the government of Saudi Arabia began a series of 1,000 public lashings against an activist blogger for expressing freedom of speech and religion. Sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam, Raif Badawi must endure 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks and pay a fine of one million riyals (approximately $266,600). Although Saudi Arabia publicly condemned the recent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Saudi secret police regularly collude with the NSA to commit human rights abuses against activists and bloggers.
According to an eyewitness account, Badawi exited a police van in front of al-Jafali mosque in the coastal city of Jeddah just after midday on Friday. Escorted by eight or nine officers, Badawi stood in the middle of the crowded square handcuffed and shackled. An officer beat Badawi’s back and legs 50 times with a large cane. Badawi remained silent as his face contorted with anguish. After the flogging ended, the officers escorted Badawi back to the van and returned him to prison.
Detained since June 17, 2012, Badawi had initially been charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but a judge dismissed the charge. Accused of cybercrime and disobeying his father, Badawi was convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal online forum that he had created. The Saudi government shut down Badawi’s website and originally sentenced him to seven years and 600 lashes on July 29, 2013.
After reviewing an appeal on May 7, 2014, a judge extended Badawi’s sentence to ten years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a ban from using the internet, and a fine of one million riyals. Following his arrest, Badawi’s wife fled the country with their children and moved to Canada. In July, Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abul-Khair was sentenced to 15 years in prison and barred from travelling for another 15 years after being convicted of inciting public opinion, insulting the judiciary, and undermining the regime and officials.