SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabian blogger's flogging postponed again

Saudi activist and blogger Raif Badawi
Saudi activist and blogger Raif Badawi Family album/AFP

Saudi Arabia will delay the public flogging of a rights activist and blogger for a second time, Amnesty International said Thursday, raising speculation that Riyadh may consider commuting his sentence amid international outrage.

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Badawi, a blogger and founder of the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of 1 million riyals (232,000 euros) and 1,000 lashes.

He was arrested in June 2012 for offences which included insulting Islam, cyber crime and disobeying his father – which is a crime in Saudi Arabia.

Badawi was subjected to the first 50 lashes two weeks ago but a second round of flogging, scheduled to be held last Friday after Friday prayers, was postponed, ostensibly on medical grounds.

Amnesty International on Thursday said Badawi’s planned flogging on Friday will be suspended again after a medical committee assessed that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds.

“The committee, comprised of around eight doctors, carried out a series of tests on Raif Badawi at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah yesterday (Wednesday) and recommended that the flogging should not be carried out,” the statement said.

Political stakes over Badawi’s case, which included the charge of insulting Islam, have been heightened by this month’s attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and its subsequent publication of more cartoons lampooning Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.

Amnesty said Badawi was still at risk of flogging despite the medical report, and called on authorities to “publicly announce an end to his flogging”.

“There is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead.”

‘Cruel and inhuman’

Badawi co-founded the now-banned Saudi Liberal Network along with women's rights campaigner Suad al-Shammari, who was also accused of insulting Islam and arrested last October.

The charges against Badawi were brought after his group criticised clerics and the kingdom's notorious religious police, who have been accused of a heavy-handed enforcement of sharia Islamic law.

The international reaction to Badawi's punishment even spread into the world of professional football this week, when German politicians criticised Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for playing a friendly match in Saudi Arabia while criticism of the kingdom's rights record swirls.

On Tuesday, Austria's chancellor threatened to withdraw support for a Saudi-financed religious dialogue centre unless it condemns Badawi's public flogging.

The same day, in an open letter published by British newspaper the Independent, 18 Nobel prize winners called on Saudi academics to condemn Badawi's punishment.

The United States, Sweden, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have denounced the flogging as a horrific form of punishment, saying Badawi was exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Canada has also condemned the sentence and called for a pardon.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has urged ailing Saudi King Abdullah to pardon Badawi, saying flogging is "cruel and inhuman" and prohibited under international human rights law.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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