One year on, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi remains behind bars

raif-yellowToday marks a year since Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

Raif Badawi received the sentence, along with a fine of 1 million riyals, from Jeddah’s criminal court on 7 May 2014 for setting up an online forum for public debate. He is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a global campaign has been initiated to call for his release, gathering the support of over a million people worldwide.

On 9 January 2015, Raif Badawi received 50 lashes after Friday prayers in a public square in Jeddah, prompting an international outcry. For two subsequent weeks his flogging was called off based on medical advice. He has not been flogged since, and the authorities have not disclosed the reasons why.

But despite the international protests, the liberal blogger remains imprisoned and still facing 950 lashes of his sentence.

For now, the Saudi Arabian tactic seems to be one of suspending the public floggings in a bid to escape international criticism and waiting for the spotlight to move on.

Amnesty is urging the international community and in particular Saudi Arabia’s western allies to press the authorities to release Raif Badawi and dozens of other prisoners of conscience who remain unjustly imprisoned in the Kingdom’s jails. (Sign the petition here.)

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of her husband, has issued an impassioned plea to the Saudi Arabian authorities for his release:

On this day I am standing strong and filled with happiness by the world’s recognition today of my husband Raif Badawi, imprisoned for his opinion and mind.

Raif was never a criminal, a gangster or drug dealer, but the Saudi authorities dealt with him like a criminal deserving of punishment, floggings and imprisonment for a long unspecified period.

Raif was just a man of thought who conveyed that thought in writing. He was dreaming of and aspiring towards a beautiful world. He wanted us, in a country of one opinion, one way of thinking and one religion, to respect difference.

Voicing his thoughts loudly annoyed the Saudi authorities but they have made him into an icon of freedom – not only in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the world.

Amnesty International will hold a demonstration outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Dublin at 6pm today.

Amnesty will hold a public event on ‘freedom of expression at risk’ in Belfast on Thursday 4 June, 7pm at the Crescent Arts Centre – featuring speakers from the cancelled-then-reinstated Queen’s University #CharlieHebdo symposium, and others. The event will focus on the threat to freedom of expression around the world and the balance between the right and other rights.

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