Saudi Arabia: Every lash of Raif Badawi defies international law
Each of the remaining 950 lashes the Saudi Arabian authorities plan to inflict upon dissident blogger Raif Badawi will bludgeon freedom of expression and make a mockery of the country’s international human rights obligations, Amnesty International warned amid fears his public flogging could resume as soon as tomorrow.
These fears have been heightened after Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced in the media on 6 June it had upheld a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for Raif Badawi, with no room to appeal the ruling.
“After languishing behind bars for five months since his last public flogging, the looming threat of a resumption of this cruel and inhuman punishment has hung over Raif Badawi. By upholding his horrific sentence in flagrant defiance of the international prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has made clear the authorities are not seeking justice, but to make an example of him and to eviscerate freedom of expression,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.
"Millions of Amnesty International supporters and other activists, journalists and political leaders around the world have spoken out loud and clear: Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally. This outrageously cruel punishment must be stopped and the authorities must quash Raif Badawi’s conviction and sentence."
Raif Badawi was originally sentenced in May 2014 for setting up an online forum for public debate and for “insulting Islam”. The first 50 lashes were administered in a public square in Jeddah on 9 January, but further floggings were delayed, initially due to medical concerns and then for unknown reasons.
Ensaf Haidar, the blogger’s wife, and their three children have been granted asylum in Canada, from where she has campaigned extensively for his release.
"The holy month of Ramadan which is about to begin has traditionally been an occasion for release of prisoners. Accordingly, we urge King Salman to make this the occasion to free Raif Badawi and reunite him with his family, who have also suffered every brutal step of his unfair trial and punishment,” said Said Boumedouha."
Saudi Arabia, which is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, is legally bound by the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments such as flogging. The prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law, binding on all states.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the flogging “at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment... prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified”.
Political leaders in the USA, a strategic ally of Saudi Arabia, have called the punishment of Raif Badawi “inhumane”, while European Union leaders have pledged to engage the Gulf Kingdom’s leaders to ensure freedom of expression for all is respected.
In an official statement issued on 7 March 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed “surprise and dismay” at the international campaign demanding Raif Badawi’s release. It added that “the kingdom unequivocally rejects any aggression under the pretext of human rights”.
Saudi Arabia’s government has systematically wiped out all human rights activism in the country in the past three years, some of it under the rubric of “counter-terrorism” legislation in force since February 2014. Raif Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was the first human rights defender to be sentenced under that law.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to use the law as a pretext to clamp down on human rights activism and freedom of expression, while Western governments have trumpeted their strong coalition with Saudi Arabia to fight terror, including by the armed group calling itself the Islamic State.
In Jeddah, on 3-4 June, Saudi Arabia hosted the fifth session of the Istanbul Process, a forum set up to propose practical measures to combat religious intolerance. One of the premises of this Process is the importance of ensuring freedom of opinion and expression as key to exercising the right to freedom of religion.
Ironically, just a few hundred metres away from this meeting, Raif Badawi was languishing in a prison cell and the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court was delivering its judgment upholding his sentence for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
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