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One year since Raif was flogged, call for his freedom

'When the worshippers saw the police van outside the mosque, they knew someone would be flogged today.'

On this day last year, just after noon, security officials in Saudi Arabia led a 30-year-old man into a square in Jeddah. A crowd had filed out from the mosque on the square after Friday prayers.

The man was handcuffed and shackled, but his face was uncovered; this was a public punishment, designed to humiliate.

The man 'raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.
'It was very quick, with no break in between lashes. When it was over, the crowd shouted, 'Allah-hu Akbar! Allah-hu Akbar!''

Ask Saudi Arabian authorities to free Raif Badawi

It’s been one year since Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times for championing free speech and encouraging debate about reform on his blog, Saudi Arabian Liberals. That flogging was the first in a sentence of 1,000 lashes that still hangs over him – alongside a decade in prison, a fine of 1 million Riyal (over a quarter of a million US dollars), and an outright ban on using media or travelling abroad for ten years following his decade in prison.

Free speech crackdown

Raif’s flogging took place just days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, when the world’s media was focused on the issue of free speech. And Raif’s flogging on the streets of Jeddah was bookended by gross hypocrisy from the Saudi Arabian regime, who had been quick to condemn the Paris attacks; that weekend saw the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to France take to the streets of Paris to show solidarity with the victims of the Hebdo attacks at a march that celebrated free speech.

Meanwhile, the vicious cruelty of Raif’s punishment for the ‘crime’ of speaking out propelled his case into headlines around the world, and put the repressive tactics of authorities in Saudi Arabia under the spotlight.

In part perhaps thanks to a huge global campaign for Raif’s freedom, the second batch of lashes – another 50 expected the following Friday – were postponed at the last minute. Thankfully Raif has not been flogged again in the past year.

The grip on free speech tightens

A year on from Raif’s flogging – which sparked outrage in the media, prompted condemnation from governments around the world, and triggered a huge global campaign for his freedom – he is still in prison, behind bars simply for exercising his right to free speech.

It’s a relief that he has not (yet) been flogged again, but those 950 lashes could resume any week. No part of Raif’s sentence has been lifted.

In the year that has passed, the Saudi Arabian authorities have only further tightened their grip on free speech, and Raif's case is sadly not unique. 

Days after Raif's flogging, his lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu al-Khair had his own 15-year prison sentence and travel ban upheld as punishment for his human rights activism – the sentence not reduced under review because Waleed had refused to apologise for his 'crimes' (including holding gatherings in his home and defending activists like Raif).

Waleed was the first human rights activist to be sentenced under a new counter-terrorism law that came into force in 2014, but he wasn't the last.

Over the past year, dozens more human rights activists have been found guilty of breaking the far-reaching and restrictive counter-terror laws, including the founders of what was one of the few human rights groups in the country, ACPRA, which has now disbanded. In recent years, the authorities have targeted and persecuted those involved with human rights organisations until they can function no longer.

With the activists in prison, the lawyers defending them locked up, the rights groups reporting on all of this shut down and their founders behind bars, it's clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are doing all they can to shut down dissent and silence those using their right to free speech to challenge the regime.

The clampdown is pervasive. Ashraf Fayadh is currently awaiting execution for allegedly challenging Islam and spreading athiest thought in his poetry. Waleed Abu al-Khair has spoken of his frustration of not being able to talk about reform and rights in his own home. No space in the kingdom is safe for free expression.

We must keep calling for Raif's freedom

The outrage we felt at the Saudi Arabian authorities' treatment of Raif one year ago must not dwindle. Raif should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and it's just as important today as it was a year ago that we demand his release.

Yesterday in London we held a vigil for Raif and all prisoners of conscience at the Saudi Arabian embassy, where we delivered to Saudi officials the petition signatures of over a quarter of a million people in the UK asking for Raif's freedom. Globally, well over a million people have signed Amnesty petitions for his release.

We've handed your signatures to @SaudiEmbassyUK. Now they must #FreeRaif, #freewaleed & prisoners of conscience.

— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) January 8, 2016

And if people power put Raif’s case in the headlines and arguably kept the lashes at bay, we must keep shouting for his freedom until it's a reality.

Ask Saudi Arabia to free Raif and stop the crackdown

Tweet the King

Tweet  I still stand with @raif_badawi. @KingSalman, #freeRaif & end the crackdown on human rights

We still stand with @raif_badawi. @kingsalman, #freeRaif & end the crackdown on human rights

— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) January 9, 2016

Post on the authorities' Facebook page

Post on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Facebook page and let them know you stand beside Raif.

What to write
Feel free to write your own message, or simply write:

‘One year since Raif Badawi was flogged, I still call for Raif’s freedom. Release this man and stop the crackdown on human rights.’

You'll have to post a comment on a recent post (or their profile picture) as you can't write directly on their wall.

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Posted by Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, 17 March 2015


About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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1 comment

By creating laws that are so easy to inadvertently disobey, the Saudi authorities are establishing a prison slave trade out of the most intelligent inquiring minds so as to breed them out of the population and artificially engineer a nation of credulous yes-men, thereby establishing absolute power for themselves and their successors for all time.

Derek Williams 8 years ago