Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, first arrested in 2012 for setting up a website that supported free speech and liberal thoughts in the tyrannical kingdom, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks and a fine of 1m Saudi riyals (approx. £175,000). The prosecution initially called to try Badawi for apostasy, which is punishable by death. However, wife Ensaf Haidar, with a degree in Islamic Studies, asserts her husband never criticised Islam and maintains that “he wanted his country to be more liberal and tolerant of other religions,” she adds that “the blog was only a space for social debates.” The website, Free Saudi Liberals, is now closed.
Ensaf Haidar, the blogger’s wife, who resides in Canada with their children, hopes that the punishment is completely halted.
“I feel destroyed. But I don’t want to sit in a corner and cry,” says Ensaf Haidar, “that would be letting Raif and my children down.” The first flogging of Raif Badawi took place, after Friday prayers, on 9th of January.
From Badawi’s extracts it is evident that he openly questioned basic principles of daily life in Saudi Arabia, specifically scrutinising religion, amongst several other issues.
“Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.
He also discussed Palestine, questioning the political aspects of Islam, saying that he was:
“Not in support of the Israeli occupation of any Arab country, but at the same time I do not want to replace Israel by a religious state … whose main concern would be spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernisation and hope.”
He further claims that:
“States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.
Badawi also supported the Egyptian revolution and hoped that
“A new Egypt will emerge from the painful birth pangs its people are experiencing … after years of subservience and oppression.” He recognised the revolution as “a decisive turning point … not only in the history and geography of Egypt but everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship and security”
Badawi further went on to referring to the Quran and emphasising the need to separate state and religion, and clarifying that the Quran supports similar ideas. In this post, which came shortly before his arrest in 2012, Badawi highlights:
“No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator.”
Amnesty International, having adopted the blogger as a prisoner of conscience, has called out to the United Kingdom to act against the punishment Badawi is sentenced to. The late King Abdullah himself had referred the case to the Supreme Court, following international outcry over his lashing.
Badawi, who is 31 years of age, is diabetic and does not have a strong physique, wife Haidar is concerned about his receiving 50 more lashes on Friday, as per his punishment. Badawi’s second round of lashes, due for the 16th of January, was postponed for a second consecutive week, on medical grounds. Amnesty International, with a team of eight doctors, carried out extensive tests on Badawi at the King Fahd hospital, Jeddah on Wednesday, the 21st of January and recommended that the flogging should not be carried out as Badawi had still not fully recovered and the wounds were yet to heal.
In protest of Badawi’s punishment, Thursday, 22nd of January saw candlelight vigils in public places and outside Saudi embassies around the world. Campaigners have shown their opposition to the lashings calling it “outrageous inhumanity.”
Badawi pays his price for freedom of speech, in an oppressed kingdom, away from his loved ones, whilst his fate dangles in the hands of Saudi authorities, as events unfold in the coming weeks.