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.

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan