Belfast Telegraph

Justice now for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

By Patrick Corrigan

Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who has already spent more than a year in jail, could soon be facing another 950 lashes.

Recently Saudi Arabia's supreme court upheld the ruling against Badawi - 1,000 lashes and a decade in prison for advocating free speech and political debate in the country. The authorities accuse him of disrespecting the religious establishment in the country.

The court's decision is irreversible - he can't appeal the decision. This means that he could be flogged again at any time, perhaps starting again this Friday.

Badawi was flogged in a public square in Jeddah 50 times in January, and was due to be publicly flogged on a weekly basis thereafter, a process that was abandoned initially on "medical grounds" (the wounds hadn't "healed enough") in the midst of international outcry over his case.

More than a million people have signed an Amnesty International petition and we held protests outside Saudi embassies worldwide.

It seems like the only thing that might save Badawi now is a further international protest - dissent inside the country is strictly disallowed. His sentence is a brutal exercise in public intimidation: "Shut up, or else."

Indeed, the blogger's punishment is one element of a widespread crackdown on independent voices in the kingdom.

For simply calling for a separation of faith and State, Badawi faces a gruesome punishment from one of the only countries never to endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But most Western governments - the UK included - have stayed shamefully silent in the face of brutality. So the international outcry to save Raif Badawi from what could amount to a death sentence will fall again to ordinary people, not Prime Ministers or Presidents.

On social media people are voicing their concern through a new campaign, launched this week, using the hashtag #backlash.

Many are using Twitter to contact Saudi embassies (in the UK, that is @SaudiEmbassyUK), asking them to halt the flogging and release Badawi immediately.

Justice should not have to be sought via social media. But, right now, that might be his last hope.

  • Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International

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