50 days since 50 lashes – blogging is still not a crime

raif yellow

Whatever we may disagree about here on the pages of Slugger, we can all agree that blogging is not a crime.

Yet, Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi is still in jail and still due to be lashed another 950 times.

On the upside, it’s now been 50 days since he was flogged very publicly 50 times by Saudi officials.

In the week leading up to his flogging on 9 January, Raif’s name appeared more and more frequently in news headlines and statements from governments around the world.

At the time, governments – including Saudi Arabia and the UK – were defending free speech after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Raif, a Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to a decade in jail, 1,000 lashes and various fines and bans for advocating free speech and debate on his website, seemed to encapsulate the hypocrisy of a regime saluting free speech with one hand, and beating it down with the other.

Raif’s punishment of 1,000 lashes was due to be delivered weekly, after Friday prayers. But, so far, he has ‘only’ been flogged 50 days ago. The growing number of people speaking out while Raif couldn’t has been phenomenal. There have been vigils and protests around the world. Over a million people signed Amnesty’s global petition for his freedom.

Raif continues to be regarded as a symbol of the struggle for free speech. Just this week, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle gave him their free speech award. He was given a courage award by the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy the week before.

We know that international pressure is having some kind of positive impact on Raif’s case – which is why we must continue to call for his freedom, and let him know that around the world, people stand by him.

If you’re on Twitter, why not tweet telling Raif (his account is currently being managed by his wife, Ensaf) that you’ve not forgotten him, and asking the Saudi Arabian king to release this prisoner of conscience.

We’ll be highlighting Raif’s case at the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz on Thursday 12 March, when local politician-quiz masters will take to the stage of The Black Box to help identify the political mastermind of 2015 as part of the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics.

As we speak, some of Ulster’s biggest political know-it-alls are busy devising serious and not-so-serious brain-busters for the night. I’ll post a few samples in the coming days to get your brain synapses charging… watch this space.

Meanwhile, get your team together and get your tickets booked (already shifting quickly!) for what will be a phenomenal night’s craic. As ever, thanks to Stratagem and Slugger for their continued support for the cause of free speech.

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  • Turgon

    Very laudable that Amnesty raises this totally unacceptable case against the Saudi blogger / journalist.

    I am always interested though in how Amnesty decides to highlight given cases. The case of this unfortunate gentleman Raif Badawi is appalling and is prominently displayed on Amnesty NI’s face book page. Unfortunately no mention at all made of the fact that a court in Saudi Arabia has also sentenced a man to death for renouncing Islam. That was five days ago and received considerable media attention. However, 6 hours ago on Amnesty’s face book page no mention made.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It seems that even Amnesty has gone the way of all media.

  • As I understand the law in Saudi Arabia, someone who is sentenced to death may not be caned. That’s either a very twisted solution to the problem or an opportunity for someone to look really, really good by commuting the sentence.

  • Mister_Joe

    I don’t think that Amnesty can fairly be “faulted”. They do campaign for lots but there are so many denials of human rights worldwide that it’s probably impossible to highlight them all. Someone being sentenced to death, however, would be a high profile cause, you would think.

  • Turgon

    Worth noting that the Independent are now suggesting that Raif Badawi may face a retrial for apostasy and hence, the death penalty. I somehow suspect Amnesty will get excited about this (entirely rightly) more quickly than they did about the other person sentenced to death (rather less rightly). All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

  • Patrick Corrigan

    Not quite sure what Turgon is trying to infer here. Sadly, Amnesty has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individual cases on “our books” at any given time, as well as large numbers of wider campaign concerns and human rights crises.

    We do our best to highlight a range of such cases across case types and geographic region and depending on what sort of ‘pressure’ or campaigning will deliver the best outcome for the individual involved. Sometimes, by prominently highlighting one case, one can make a significant positive difference to other, similar cases.

    Turgon may be interested to know that we take pains to verify the details of cases by consulting with a range of sources of information – lawyers, family members, non-governmental groups, etc, rather than simply relying on media reports, before asking members of the public to take action. We are aware of the news reports that judges in Saudi Arabia’s criminal court may want Raif Badawi to undergo a re-trial for apostasy and might be facing the death penalty again. We’re currently looking into the reports and can’t verify them at this stage.

    It is perhaps worth noting that the case of Raif Badawi – which has included charges of apostasy – was largely brought to public attention by Amnesty and was one of several dozen cases featured in our global ‘write for rights’ campaign last year. Ben De Hallenbacque – please note it was Amnesty campaigning which helped to bring about the media attention, not media attention which brought about Amnesty campaigning.

    Last year, we similarly brought to global public attention the case of Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death for apostasy and flogging for adultery. Thankfully, she was ultimately freed after a million people signed an Amnesty petition and an international public outcry.

    Other ‘free speech’ cases we have highlighted in the last week include the case of three sisters detained after tweeting about their jailed brother in the United Arab Emirates, and the conviction in Thailand of two students involved in a play deemed to have insulted the monarchy.

    If Turgon or others would like to take action on a sample of the many cases on which we are currently working, I suggest they visit the relevant section of our website – http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Action-for-individuals – rather than the much more limited local Facebook page which he/she has so far visited.

  • Guest

    However, as this website as previously pointed out the main threat to blogging in NI is from journalists:

    “Surprisingly, while media organisation are often the target of libel action, the single biggest group of Tweed’s clients are journalists, followed by lawyers and then politicians. Celebrities are far down the list”

  • Mirrorballman

    Day 1 of the ‘War on terror’ should have seen American and British planes over Riyad…..It would have saved so much trouble…….