Saudi Blogger Imprisoned for Supporting Free Speech
by Stephen Lendman
Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most repressive police states. Its barbarism is widely acknowledged. Fundamental rights guaranteed under international law are ruthlessly denied.
Raif Badawi is a Saudi blogger. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, 1,000 lashes (50 at a time), and a one million riyals fine (around $250,000) for championing free speech on his site.
It was titled Saudi Free Liberals Forum until shut down after his 2012 arrest. Riyadh's kangaroo/rubber-stamp High Court upheld his sentence for insulting Wahhabi-style Islam - a fanatical Sunni sect.
Initially he was charged with apostasy - a capital offense in the Kingdom. In 2013, the accusation was dropped.
In January, he got his first 50 lashes after Friday prayers outside Jeddah's Al-Juffali mosque.
He was due for 50 more 19 weeks later. They were postponed for medical reasons. Amnesty International said it was "to let (him) heal enough to suffer again."
Saudis forced Raif's father to publicly renounce his son for "parental disobedience" on national television. In the Kingdom, it's a crime to disobey fathers.
Raif's wife, Ensaf Haidar, received anonymous threats before seeking political asylum in Montreal with her three children.
"Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging. His health is poor. I told our children (what happened) so they would not (first) find out about it from friends at school. It's a huge shock for them."
One of Badawi's posts said "(y)ou have the right to express and think whatever you want as you have the right to declare what you think about it, it is your right to believe or think, have the right to love and to hate, from your right to be a liberal or Islamist."
In another, he said "Arab and Islamic societies (need) to uphold the value of the individual and uphold freedom and respect for his thinking."
"States which are based on a religious basis confine their people in the circle of faith and fear."
He argued for "secularism (as) the most important refuge for citizens of a country. (It) respects everyone and does not offend anyone."
"As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics."
He opposes Israel's occupation while at the same time saying "I do not want to replace Israel (with) a religious state…spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernization and hope."
"States based on religious ideology…have nothing except the fear of God and an inability to face up to life."
"…Muslims in Saudi Arabia not only disrespect the beliefs of others, but also charge them with infidelity…(T)hey consider anyone (not) Muslim an infidel and…non-Hanbali (the Saudi school of Islam) Muslims as apostates."
These and other remarks unacceptable to Riyadh got him arrested, convicted and imprisoned.
Following his 2012 arrest, Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience "detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression."
Human Rights Watch called for dropping charges against him "based solely (on his) involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures…violat(ing) his right of freedom of expression."
Badawi's lawyer was imprisoned for establishing Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He was charged with "setting up an unlicensed organization" and "breaking allegiance with the ruler."
In reviewing Riyadh's UN Human Rights Council membership, HRW said:
"Over the last year, Saudi authorities have harassed, investigated, prosecuted, and jailed prominent peaceful dissidents and human rights activists on vague charges based solely on their peaceful practice of basic rights, particularly the right to free expression…"
AI said they "continue a relentless campaign of repression in the name of security…(Anyone) express(ing) dissent (or calling for reform) face(s) arrest and imprisonment."
Badawi is one of thousands of victims. His wife said Saudi authorities want him retried for apostasy. If convicted, he'll face capital punishment - likely by beheading.
Through May, Saudis executed 90 individuals this way - compared to 88 throughout 2014.
One is too many. So is reckless use of capital punishment - often against innocent victims or others charged with offenses too minor to matter or for political reasons.
AI is involved in an international campaign to free Badawi. It thanked "over 1 million Amnesty supporters worldwide who have contacted Saudi authorities to express their outrage and demand his release."
His sentence stands. He remains in prison. His wife said "this is a final decision that is irrevocable" without a royal pardon.
In a letter from prison Badawi said "(a)ll this cruel suffering happened to me only because I expressed my opinion."
Public views differing from rogue Saudi policies risk arrest, imprisonment, floggings and at times death - most often by barbaric beheadings.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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