Saudi Arabia must call off tomorrow's 50 lashes for free speech activist Raif Badawi
Criticism of UK ministers for ‘wearing the Saudi muzzle’ in muted response
Candlelight #FreeRaif vigil at Saudi embassy in London this afternoon
The Saudi Arabian authorities should heed an international outcry over last week’s public flogging of the online activist Raif Badawi and abandon its intention to carry out the remainder of his 1,000-lash sentence, said Amnesty International ahead of the planned second instalment of 50 lashes tomorrow.
Mr Badawi, 31, is serving a ten-year jail sentence - as well as facing 1,000 lashes and a heavy fine - for offences related to his setting up the Saudi Arabian Liberals website, an online forum for public debate, as well as accusations that he insulted Islam.
His flogging began last week after Friday prayers when he was lashed 50 times outside al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. Badawi will be flogged for a second time tomorrow morning, though Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, has told Amnesty that she fears her husband may not be able to physically withstand a second round of lashes. She said:
“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor and I’m certain he will not be able to cope with another round of lashes. I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial, I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off. We must keep on fighting.”
The governments of the USA, Canada, Germany and Norway among others, have issued statements condemning Badawi’s flogging, and thousands of people from across the world have expressed their outrage on social media, with hundreds organising demonstrations in front of Saudi Arabian embassies worldwide. Amnesty International UK is staging a candle-lit vigil for Badawi at the Saudi Arabian embassy in central London at 5pm today. Protesters holding photos of the activist with “#FreeRaif” slogans will line the street outside the embassy in London’s Mayfair area.
Meanwhile, in another example of Saudi Arabia’s absolute intolerance of peaceful dissent, on Monday Badawi’s lawyer - Waleed Abu al-Khair - had his own 15-year prison sentence upheld, having been convicted on charges including breaking allegiance to the ruler, offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said:
“Flogging and other forms of corporal judicial punishment violate the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. By continuing to dole out this inhuman punishment the Saudi Arabian authorities are flagrantly flouting basic human rights principles.
“The international community must keep up its pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities. Raif Badawi’s cruel and unjust punishment must be halted immediately.”
UK government response
Amnesty is also calling on the UK government to significantly increase its response to the case. Last week the Foreign Office’s @FCOHumanRights Twitter account expressed the government’s “concern” that Mr Badawi had been flogged, adding that the UK government “condemns [the] use of cruel and degrading punishment in all circumstances”. Since then the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has criticised the punishment after it was raised in media interviews, while the Prime Minister David Cameron answered a PMQ query about the case yesterday by saying the government condemned such corporal punishment, adding that international relations with countries like Saudi Arabia were “continually reviewed”.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“Our ministers rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh.
“Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK's credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
“David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say - loud and clear - that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail.
“At the very least the Foreign Office should be calling in the Saudi ambassador and telling him this in person if they haven’t already done so.”