June 17: Day of Action for imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015
By José Gonzalez June 17, 2015, will mark three years since Saudi Arabian blogger and activist Raif Badawi was arrested as a result of writings he posted on his secular website Free Saudi Liberals. On this grim anniversary, English PEN, joined by other organizations, is leading a Day of Action in support of Badawi, as well as his lawyer and brother-in-law, Walled Abulkhair. While demonstrations will be taking place in the U.K., concerned individuals around the world are encouraged to participate in the Day of Action in the following ways:

Background

Following his arrest on June 17, 2012, Raif Badawi was charged with insulting Islam, parental disobedience and apostasy. Though the apostasy charge was later dismissed, he was successfully convicted of the other two crimes and sentenced in 2014 to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 million riyals ($335,000 CAD). Badawi’s blog, which was shut down following his 2012 arrest, was critical of the role of religion in Saudi Arabia and promoted a secular, democratically elected government, as opposed to the conservative religious monarchy which currently steers the country. He wrote specifically on the importance of free expression, and how fear is used to discourage those with ideas the state finds threatening. Though Badawi escaped an apostasy conviction, which carries a penalty of death by beheading, the flogging punishment is brutal and clearly violates international human rights standards. On January 9, 2015, Badawi received his first set of 50 lashes; following substantial international outcry and a physician’s assessment that his physical state was too fragile to undergo further punishment, his second flogging, originally scheduled for January 23, has been repeatedly postponed. While many feared that a second lashing would take place last Friday, June 12, it was delayed again with no official explanation. Badawi’s guilty verdict and harsh sentence has been strongly condemned by human rights groups around the world. The use of corporal punishment to silence dissenting voices is an especially disproportionate response and appears designed to deter other Saudis who try to peacefully exercise their right to express themselves. While the fact that Badawi’s second flogging was postponed again may seem like a promising development, it comes after a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia to uphold the blogger’s guilty verdict. It’s believed the lashings will resume when Badawi is considered healthy enough to undergo the punishment. In the face of sustained international condemnation, Saudi Arabia has countered that western media is attempting to threaten the country’s sovereignty “under the pretext of human rights.” Saudi leaders also spoke of their commitment to human rights, claiming others actors “have emptied human rights of their sublime meanings” and are “politicizing and abusing those rights” to disrupt states’ jurisdiction. It is important to note that there are no legal or constitutional protections for the right to freedom of expression or assembly in Saudi Arabia; the country also has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Here in Canada, the government of Quebec has begun the process to offer Badawi an immigration selection certificate so that he might be reunited with his wife and three children who fled Saudi Arabia and settled in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 2013. Though Badawi isn’t a Canadian citizen, he would be offered the certificate on special humanitarian grounds. However, the federal Canadian government is extremely limited in its ability to negotiate the transfer of a foreign citizen. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that international pressure and attention continue to be applied to prevent Badawi from receiving further lashes and to try to secure his freedom.
José Gonzalez is a freelance journalist currently working in Toronto, Ontario. Follow José on Twitter @JGonspy.

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