Raif Badawi was originally charged with apostasy, or abandonment of religion, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia that is punishable by the death penalty.
Raif Badawi, of Saudi Arabia, has been in jail since June, 2012, and was sentenced by a Jeddah Criminal Court on Monday to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for “urging religious liberalisation,” according to his lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair.
Badawi was originally charged with apostasy, or abandonment of religion, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia that is punishable by the death penalty. However, the court found him guilty of the lesser crime of violating the nation’s cyber-crime law by, “insulting Islam through his website and in television comments.” Badwai’s lawyer confirmed that he had told the judge that he was a Muslim but that, “everyone has a choice to believe or not believe.”
Human Rights Watch reports:
The charges against Badawi were based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression … Badawi established his online platform in 2008, to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.
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.
And Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch added:
This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue. 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.
Amnesty International has declared Badawi is a political prisoner and is calling for his immediate release. They released a statement which said:
The sentencing on Monday of writer and activist Raif Badawi to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for peacefully expressing his ideas is an affront to justice and an egregious violation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights obligations … Flogging is corporal punishment that violates international law, which prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Amnesty International strongly condemns the pervasive drive by the Saudi Arabian authorities to repress free expression and the numerous convictions of human rights activists in the country so far in 2013. It considers Raif Badawi and all those detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
The prosecution and sentencing of Raif Badawi for expressing his opinions, including his questioning of the official interpretation of religion and religious practices, is the latest episode in a mounting attempt by the Saudi authorities to prevent any form of free expression.
Abu al-Khair said he will be filing an appeal against the decision.
Photo: Facebook/Freedom for Raif Badawi