Mounting pressure on the Saudi government to end its barbaric punishment of atheist blogger Raif Badawi, led by the Center for Inquiry and other secular and human rights groups, might be having the desired effect. He was supposed to receive the second set of 50 lashes (the sentence was for 1000 lashes) last Friday but it was postponed and the case was referred to the nation’s high court.
Last Friday, Badawi received the first 50 of his 1,000-lash sentence in front of a large crowd at the Al-Jafali mosque in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. He was due to receive the next fifty lashes of his sentence on Friday this week, but the beatings have been suspended until next week as he is not medically fit for more lashes, doctors have ruled.
“Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program.
“The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous.”
There is, however, some hope for 31-year-old Badawi. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who is now living in Canada with their three children, told the BBC that Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz, the King of Saudi Arabia, has referred her husband’s case to the country’s Supreme Judicial Council for review.
Good news, if it means a reprieve or reduction in sentence for Badawi. But he’s going to need a new legal adviser – because his former lawyer (and brother-in-law) Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to more time prison by the Saudi authorities this week.
But the pressure is ratcheting up. A group of 18 Nobel laureates have written a letter to Saudi academics asking them to speak out against this barbarism and in favor of free expression. Eight U.S. Senators have written a letter to King Abdullah asking him to commute the sentence. That letter is quite blunt, calling the flogging a “barbaric punishment.” How sad that only eight senators signed it. It should have been unanimous.
But this action might — emphases on might — be having an effect. I certainly hope it forces the Saudi government to reconsider the sentence and even to release Badawi and allow him to join his family in Canada.