Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has received the first 50 lashes of public flogging out of 1,000 for “insulting Islam” via an online forum that he launched.
Jailed for ten years in prison, he faces over $200,000 fine.
Badawi was taken to the square in front of the al-Jafali mosque in shackles and flogged for 15 minutes and then he was driven away. The witnesses say he was kept with his back to onlookers and whipped, though he remained silent, as reported by AFP.
The corporal punishment will be carried out for 20 weeks after Friday prayers outside the mosque in Jeddah, according to Amnesty International. That is the place famous for executions carried out in and it has got a nickname “Chop Chop Square”.
Raif Badawi’s persecution started in 2008 after he co-founded the “Free Saudi Liberals” website to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia. The network declared May 7, 2012 a “day of liberalism” in the kingdom and called for an end of religion domination over public life.
In order to escape arrest, the blogger then left the country. He returned when the charges against him were dropped, but was jailed in June 2012.
In July 2013 Badawi was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison for “insulting Islam” via his online forum, Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law.
Badawi was also charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in the Saudi Kingdom, but he was cleared of this crime in 2013.
Blogger’s lawyers appealed for a retrial but the charge and the sentence were upheld last May to 1,000 lashes, completed in 20 sessions in front of a mosque, ten years of imprisonment, one million riyal fine ($266,000), ten year ban on travel abroad after his release and ten year ban from participating in visual, electronic and written media after his release.
Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair has also been jailed for 15 years after being charged with “undermining the regime and officials”, “inciting public opinion” and “insulting the judiciary”.
“My commitment is…to reject any repression in the name of religion…a goal that we will reach in a peaceful and law-abiding way,” Raif Badawi said in an interview in 2007.
US expressed its concern over the sentence. State department spokesperson Jen Psaki addressed the Saudi officials to “cancel the brutal punishment” and review the case.
The sentence was condemned by numerous human rights groups. Amnesty International called Badawi “a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing.”
“Flogging and other forms of corporal punishment are prohibited under international law, which prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director for Amnesty International said, adding it was horrifying that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.
“By ignoring international calls to cancel the flogging Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights principles,” Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International said.