‘The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous’ - Said Boumedouha
Amnesty writes to Philip Hammond after criticising UK ministers for ‘wearing the Saudi muzzle’ in muted response
Amnesty International has received information indicating that the flogging of the free speech activist Raif Badawi has not been carried out today on medical grounds.
Though welcome, the postponement of the 50 lashes on medical grounds exposes the shocking brutality of the punishment, said Amnesty. 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.
Badawi was removed from his jail cell in Jeddah this morning and taken to the prison clinic for a medical check-up before the latest round of his 1,000-lash sentence was due to be carried out. The doctor concluded that the wounds had not yet healed properly and that he would not be able to withstand another bout of lashes at this time. He recommended that the flogging should be postponed until next week, though it is presently unclear whether the authorities will fully comply with this demand.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said:
“Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity.
“The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous.
“Flogging should not be carried out under any circumstances. Flogging is prohibited under international law along with other forms of corporal punishment.
“His flogging appears to have been postponed for now but there is no way of knowing whether Saudi Arabia’s authorities will fully comply with the doctor’s advice. Raif Badawi is still at immediate risk.”
The flogging has prompted an international outcry with people from around the world, and more than 50,000 have supported Amnesty’s online petition
calling for Badawi’s flogging to be stopped and for him to be immediately and unconditionally released on the grounds that he is a prisoner of conscience.
UK government’s response
Amnesty is 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 is today writing to the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond expressing disappointment at “muted criticism” from the UK government on this case, and calling on Mr Hammond to “personally and publicly call on the Saudi Authorities to stop any further flogging of Raif Badawi, and to urge the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally”.
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.”