Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger and activist who is the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, has been sentenced to ten years in prison for the charge of “insulting Islam.”
Badawi had called for May 7th to be a “day for Saudi Liberals.” The day, intended to bring attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict religious policies, was promoted on his website. In addition to the decade in prison for the charge, Badawi will undergo physical and monetary punishment procedures. The blogger has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and a 1 million riyal ($267,000) fine.
He was originally arrested for “insulting Islam” on June 17, 2012. Last year, he was cleared of apostasy charges. Renouncing Islam is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, based upon the Quranic principles of the Islamic shariah law.
Badawi, 31, has a long history of run-ins with the Shariah-compliant legal system. In 2008, he was arrested on apostasy charges, but he was released a day later. In 2009, Saudi officials banned him from leaving the country and froze his bank accounts.
Concerning his current sentence, Badawi’s wife said, “This is terrible news and I’m absolutely shocked and devastated by it. How is it possible they could take a sentence that was already so harsh and make it even harsher? Ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes? That’s unimaginable. I’m extremely scared for my husband.”
Philip Luther, a director at Amnesty International, the leading human rights NGO, said:
The decision to sentence Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes is outrageous. He is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression. The authorities must overturn his conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally. Raif Badawi is the latest victim to fall prey to the ruthless campaign to silence peaceful activists in Saudi Arabia. The authorities seem determined to crush all forms of dissent through every means at their disposal, including imposing harsh prison sentences and corporal punishment on activists.
The Middle East director of Human Rights Watch said of the 2012 charges, “Badawi’s life hangs in the balance because he set up a liberal website that provided a platform for an open and peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures.”
An Amnesty International spokesperson commented on those initial 2012 charges, as well: “Even in Saudi Arabia where state repression is rife, it is beyond the pale to seek the death penalty for an activist whose only ‘crime’ was to enable social debate online.”
In 2013, Badawi was convicted of the same charges, but he chose to appeal the measure. The appeals court upgraded his original sentence from 7 years in prison and 600 lashes to the new verdict of 10 years and 1,000 lashes. An anonymous source told CNN that Baradawi will likely appeal the new sentence, as well.