The United States is greatly concerned that human rights activist and internet blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to a total of 1000 lashes, in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison, for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. The first round of lashes was delivered on January 9.
The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a one million riyal ($266,665) fine in May 2014 on charges of blasphemy and insulting Islam. Prosecutors originally charged him with apostasy – a crime that potentially carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia – but the charges were later downgraded.
Badawi’s charges were based in part on his founding of the Saudi Liberals Network, an online forum established to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia and defend freedom of expression, women’s rights, and gender equality. Evidence against him included his pressing the “like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians as well as his refusal to remove controversial comments posted by users of his website.
Badawi’s Saudi Liberals Network website was ordered shut down by a Jeddah court in May 2014 as part of his sentence.
The United States strongly opposes laws that restrict freedom of expression and religion, including on the Internet, and urges all countries, including Saudi Arabia, to uphold these rights in practice.