A blogger in Saudi Arabia who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes received his first 50 lashes by cane in a public square a little more than a week ago. His second round of lashing, scheduled for last Friday, was postponed after a doctor found that he had yet to heal from the first.
The cruel, retrograde punishment of Raif Badawi has drawn worldwide condemnation, and Amnesty International has deemed him a prisoner of conscience and called for his release. Badawi's “crime” was operating a now defunct blog, the Free Saudi Liberal Network, which fostered political and social debate over Islam and liberalism.
Badawi wrote about whether those two concepts were compatible, critiqued the religious police and ran posts by others critical of Saudi institutions. That initially got him jailed and charged in 2012 with apostasy — renunciation of his religion — which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. In 2013, he was found guilty of the lesser charges of insulting Islam and violating the information technology laws; on appeal, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.
The right to freedom of expression is not some peculiar American obsession. It is a universal human right, and those who exercise it should neither be killed by terrorists nor imprisoned by their governments. It's especially hypocritical for Saudi officials, who publicly condemned the acts of violence in Paris against the Charlie Hebdo staff, to condone the brutal beating of a citizen for freely expressing his opinions. (Of course, Saudi Arabia wasn't the only country to condemn the events in France despite a poor record on freedom of speech. Egypt, Turkey and Russia all sent officials to the Paris march.)
Not only is Badawi's punishment utterly disproportionate to his crime, but his crime shouldn't even be considered a crime. The Saudis should immediately end all plans to inflict physical torture upon Badawi.
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