Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia's political football

Football is, for some, an obsession. In the UK, it’s a sport that gets lots of people’s emotions going and in the office, now that the football season has begun, conversations about tactics and scorelines will start up once again too.

Football is also huge in Saudi Arabia. Tonight Saudi Arabian football comes to London – Queen's Park Ranger's ground Loftus Road in West London, to be precise – as the UK becomes the first country outside of Saudi Arabia to host the Super Cup. The Cup sees the league champions and the winners of the Kings Cup play for the honour of being 'super' in a special one-off match.

Now to be honest, football doesn’t get me all hot and bothered. I couldn’t tell you who won the Premiership or how early the men’s team got knocked out of the World Cup (but I do know it was way before the women’s team...).

But whilst I may be vague on the who’s who of the football world, what I do know is that the 90 minutes of uncertainty a football fan endures waiting on a scoreboard to reflect kindly on their side is nothing in comparison to the months of uncertainty Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi has faced since the start of the year.

Raif came to international attention in January after he was publically flogged 50 times. Since then, week after week, for months now, Raif and his family have endured the uncertainty of not knowing if this week will be the one which seems him flogged again. His wife Ensaf has described her family’s pain, saying that the sentence of lashes and prison remains 'a sheer inferno of unbearable torture'.

Despite international outcry from Amnesty supporters around Raif’s imprisonment – he was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for doing very much like what I am doing now, blogging and providing a space for debate, Raif remains trapped in prison and a cruel waiting game.

Sadly Raif Badawi is only one of the many prisoners of conscience Saudi Arabia is holding; his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair is also imprisoned – his peaceful online activism has been clamped down upon in a country where freedom of expression is extremely limited. This year we have also seen a worrying rise in the number of executions in the country.

So for me, the fact that the UK will host the first Super Cup match outside of Saudi Arabia is extremely interesting, as it is another demonstration of the strong ties between the two countries.

We know that the UK continues to be a major supplier of arms to the Saudi Arabian government. In 2014 alone, a total of £83 million worth of arms were authorised for export. And whilst the UK government has condemned Raif’s flogging, they have sadly fallen short of calling for his release.

I wish both teams success at tonight's match. For everyone watching, I hope that once you have enjoyed 90 minutes of the game, you’ll spend just one minute signing our petition to free Raif Badawi. With over a million people calling for Raif's release, Saudi Arabian authorities can't continue to look away.

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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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