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Aug-02-2013 13:37printcomments

Saudi Arabia: 600 Lashes, 7 Years for Activist

Badawi’s wife and children moved abroad in 2012, fearing repercussions.


(YORK, UK) - A Jeddah court on July 29, 2013, convicted a liberal activist of violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law and sentenced him to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.

The Criminal Court found Raif Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, guilty of insulting Islam through his website and in comments he made on television, and added three months to his term for “parental disobedience.”

The charges against Badawi were based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, Human Rights Watch said. Badawi established his online platform in 2008, to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.

He has been detained in Jeddah’s Buraiman prison since his arrest on June 17, 2012. Criminal Court Judge Faris al-Harbi dropped a charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty, after Badawi assured the court on July 24 that he is a Muslim.

“This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.”

Raif Badawi

Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, told Human Rights Watch that Judge al-Harbi read the verdict aloud during a trial session on July 29, and that the court will send Abu al-Khair a written notification by August 6, and give him 30 days to appeal.

Abu al-Khair said that the judge sentenced Badawi to five years in prison for insulting Islam and violating provisions of Saudi Arabia’s 2007 anti-cybercrime law through his liberal website, affirming that liberalism is akin to unbelief.

The judge ordered the closure of the website and added two years to Badawi’s sentence for insulting both Islam and Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police, in comments during television interviews.

Abu al-Khair also said the judge added three months to the sentence for `Uquq, or “parental disobedience,” apparently because of Badawi’s numerous public confrontations with his father over the years.

The judge dropped the apostasy charge after Badawi affirmed to the court that he is a Muslim and recited the Shehadeh, or Muslim declaration of faith, the lawyer said. The judge also threw out the evidence that Badawi had violated the anti-cybercrime law in comments on social media sites.

Prosecutors initially charged Badawi in 2011, alleging that his website “infringes on religious values.”

According to the charge sheet, the prosecution’s evidence included five postings by Badawi and anonymous members of his site critical of Saudi religious authorities, and two postings regarding theological questions.

During a hearing on Badawi’s case at the Jeddah Criminal Court on December 17, 2012, Judge Muhammad al-Marsoom prevented Badawi’s lawyer from representing his client, the lawyer told Human Rights Watch. Judge al-Marsoom informed Badawi that he could face the death penalty if he did not “repent to God” and renounce his liberal beliefs. Badawi refused. Recommending a trial for apostasy, the judge referred the case to the Jeddah Public Court, which tries more serious crimes.

In January, the Public Court refused to hear the case, and following a lengthy process to determine which court had jurisdiction, judicial authorities eventually transferred it back to the Criminal Court.

Saudi authorities have long harassed Badawi for debating religious issues. In March 2008, authorities arrested Badawi and questioned him about his website, but released him a day later.

In May 2008, Badawi was formally charged with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam” and he left the country. He returned when prosecutors apparently decided to drop the charges, he told Human Rights Watch. In 2009, the authorities barred Badawi from traveling abroad and froze his business interests, depriving him of a source of income, he told Human Rights Watch.

On March 18, 2012, the well-known cleric Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak issued a religious ruling declaring Badawi an “unbeliever… and apostate who must be tried and sentenced according to what his words require.”

Al-Barrak claimed that Badawi had said “that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists are all equal,” and that even if these were not Badawi’s own opinions but “an account of the words of others, this is not allowed unless accompanied by a repudiation” of such words.

Badawi and other contributors to his website declared May 7, 2012, “A Day for Saudi Liberals,” hoping to spark an open discussion on distinctions between “popular” and “politicized” religion, Su’ad al-Shammar, the website’s director, told Human Rights Watch.

Badawi’s wife and children moved abroad in 2012, fearing repercussions.

International human rights law protects freedom of expression. International standards only allow content based restrictions on expression in extremely narrow circumstances, such as cases of slander or libel against private individuals, or speech that threatens national security.

Restrictions must be clearly defined, specific, necessary, and proportionate to the threat to the interest protected.

The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties, the UN Human Rights Committee said in its 2011 General Comment No. 34 regarding permissible limits on freedom of expression. Regarding restrictions for the protection of public morals, the committee in its 1993 General Comment 22 on freedom of religion observed “that the concept of morals derives from many social, philosophical, and religious traditions; consequently, limitations... for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition.”

“King Abdullah has received praise for fostering dialogue and an exchange of ideas between religions, but it appears that Saudi authorities’ tolerance for open discussion stops at Saudi borders,” Houry said.

Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes condemns the harsh punishment handed down to Raif Badawi, in direct retaliation for his work in defence of human rights, particularly his criticism of the religious police for human rights violations. Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes notes with alarm that the ruling constitutes an escalation in the pattern of harassment of the human rights defender by the authorities.

His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Your Majesty,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for

On 29 July 2013, a Jeddah court sentenced human rights defender Mr Raif Badawi to 600 lashes and 7 years imprisonment under the Saudi Arabia's anti-cyber crime law. Raif Badawi is a human rights blogger and activist, who has documented various abuses by the national religious and morality police on his website. The human rights defender has been detained in Jeddah’s Buraiman prison since his arrest on 17 June 2012.

On 29 July, in a clear violation of international minimum standards for a free trial, Raif Badawi's lawyer was prevented from attending the hearing, calling into doubt the fairness of the judicial proceedings in the case. The court stated that the human rights defender was guilty of insulting Islam through his website, Free Saudi Liberals, and through his statements on TV. Criminal Court Judge Faris al-Harbi dropped a charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty, after Raif Badawi assured the court on 24 July that he is a Muslim.

On numerous occasions before his arrest in June 2012, Raif Badawi had been harassed by the authorities. On 6 December 2009, Raif Badawi was stopped at Jeddah airport and prevented from travelling to Beirut. No official explanation was given for the travel ban or its time limit; however, it seemed to be linked to charges brought against Raif Badawi in relation to a website he set up, in which he criticized the religious police for human rights violations.

Earlier, in May 2009, the daily newspaper Al-Hayyat reported that the bank accounts of Raif Badawi and his wife had been frozen. A month later, he was summoned by a high officer at the Public Intelligence Office (Mukhabarat) who promised to drop the case against him. However, to date his legal status has not changed, and the bank accounts are still frozen.

On 5 May 2008, the prosecution service in Jeddah charged Raif Badawi with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam,” and referred the case to court, asking for a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal (approximately EUR 600,000) fine.

I would like to condemn the harsh punishment handed down to Raif Badawi, in direct retaliation for his work in defence of human rights, particularly his criticism of the religious police for human rights violations. I note with alarm that the ruling constitutes an escalation in the pattern of harassment of the human rights defender by the authorities.

I urge the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally overturn the conviction of Raif Badawi and release him without delay, as evidence shows that these measures have been taken against him solely on account of his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Raif Badawi and that of his family, and ensure that while he remains in detention, his treatment adheres to all those conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;
  3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are free to carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Most respectfully,
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Ambassador for

________________________________________ Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.

He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.


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