The flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed on medical grounds, according to latest reports. He had been due to receive the second instalment of 50 lashings in front of a mosque in Jeddeh this afternoon. His punishment, 1000 lashes in total across 20 sessions, has been harshly criticised.
Mr Badawi, a 31 year old father of three rose to prominence through his website and blog which urges reform of Saudi Arabia’s rulers – a mixture of absolute monarchists and religious totalitarians. In particular his work focused on the role of clerics and morality police within society, the Telegraph has reported.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, Saudi authorities, fearing the spread of the liberalisation movement, cracked down on bloggers and activists such as Mr Badawi, and in 2012 he was arrested and charged. He was subsequently sentenced in May last year to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a ban on appearing on media outlets.
Mr Badawi received the first 50 of the stipulated 1000 lashes last Friday, in a public square in front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddeh, traditionally a liberal city. The location was seen as a warning to others. “He was handcuffed and shackled but his face was not covered – everyone could see his face,” one witness told Amnesty International.
“Still shackled, Raif stood up in the middle of the crowd. He was dressed in a pair of trousers and a shirt. A security officer approached him from behind with a huge cane and started beating him. Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back.
“He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain. The officer beat Raif on his back and legs, counting the lashes until they reached 50.”
Despite calls from the UN to halt the punishment, Badawi was due to receive the second lot of lashings this afternoon. This morning he was removed from his cell and taken to the prison clinic to be seen by medical officers; they have ruled that his wounds from last week have not healed sufficiently and recommended postponement until next week.
His wife, Ensaf Haidar, who has sought asylum in Canada with their three children, told Agence France-Presse: “The prison doctor saw Badawi’s health does not allow his flogging today.” The Canadian government has expressed concern at what it calls “a violation of human dignity and freedom of expression”.
Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the new UN commissioner for human rights and a member of the Jordanian royal family, has called upon Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Mr Badawi, and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty”.
He said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment. Such punishment is prohibited under international human rights law, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”
According to the Guardian, vigils were held outside Saudi embassies in Berlin, Paris, the Hague and Tunis on Thursday.
The UK Foreign Office has added its voice to those condemning the punishment. A spokesman said: “The UK condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances. We have previously raised Mr Badawi’s case and will do so again directly with the Saudi authorities. The UK is a strong supporter of freedom of expression around the world.”
However, Amnesty International, which has adopted Badawi as a prisoner of conscience, is critical of the British government’s stance. Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty said: “David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear – that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail. At the very least the Foreign Office should be calling in the Saudi ambassador and telling him this in person if they haven’t already done so.”
Commenting on the postponement of today’s beatings, Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity.
“The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous. Flogging should not be carried out under any circumstances.”