A Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes may be flogged for a second time on Friday, campaigners fear.
This week Saudi Arabia’s supreme court upheld a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on Raif Badawi for insulting Islam. The judgment came despite criticism from the United Nations, United States, European Union, Canada and others.
In January Badawi received the first of 20 sets of 50 lashes. The punishment was ordered to be spread over 20 weeks and carried out on Fridays outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, but subsequent rounds of lashes were postponed on medical grounds.
Human Rights Watch said it believed that a second round of flogging would take place on Friday, following the new court decision.
Badawi co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network internet discussion group, which encouraged online debate about religious and political issues, in 2008. He was arrested in June 2012 under cybercrime provisions and sentenced last May.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office in London said this week: “We are extremely concerned that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been upheld … We have raised his case at the most senior levels in the government of Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so.”
Saudi Arabia has dismissed criticism of its flogging of Badawi and “strongly denounced the media campaign around the case”.
On 29 May the Saudi embassy in Brussels sent an official statement about the case on behalf of the Saudi foreign affairs ministry to members of the European parliament. The statement condemned any “interference in its internal affairs”, saying that “some international parties and media … drifted into an attempt to infringe and attack on the sovereign right of states”.
In his first letter from prison, published by the German weekly Der Spiegel in March, Badawi wrote how he “miraculously survived 50 lashes”, recalling that he was “surrounded by a cheering crowd who cried incessantly ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is greatest]” during the whipping.
“All this cruel suffering happened to me because I expressed my opinion,”Badawi wrote.
Badawi’s wife and their three children have been granted asylum in Québec, Canada.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Saudi authorities believe they are the ones under attack while Raif Badawi waits to be publicly flogged merely for expressing his peaceful opinions. All Saudi efforts to improve the country’s image internationally cannot overcome this ugly message of intolerance.”
Under the judgment, authorities are to carry out the lashings in front of the Juffali mosque in central Jeddah, with at least one week between sessions. Saudi activists have told Human Rights Watch that lashing is generally carried out with a light wooden cane, and the blows are distributed across the back and legs, which leaves bruising but normally does not break the skin.
Saudi human rights activists and dissidents have frequently been the subject of harsh judgments. The co-founder of Badawi’s site, Souad al-Shammari, wasreleased from prison in February but his lawyer – who is also an activist – is in jail after being sentenced to 15 years for his criticism of Saudi human rights abuses in media interviews and on social media.
Fadhil al-Manasif, and activist and blogger, faces 14 years in prison, while Mohammed al-Bajadi, a founding member of one of the few independent human rights groups in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March. Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani, another prominent human rights activist, was given a 10-year sentence in 2013.
Activists in Saudi Arabia have criticised a new counter-terrorism law that makes “acts that harm the reputation of the state or its standing” illegal.