WORLDPOST

Members Of Congress Call On Saudi Arabia To Release Blogger Raif Badawi

03/05/2015 06:13 pm ET | Updated Mar 05, 2015

More than sixty members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the king of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience imprisoned for exercising their basic right to freedom -- including blogger Raif Badawi and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

The letter encouraged Saudi Arabia's new King Salman bin Abdulaziz to "serve as an advocate for human rights and democratic reforms" and listed myriad ways the king can "build on the steps" taken by the late King Abdullah, including ending the ban on women driving and allowing religious minorities to exercise freely. All of these are among the "key objectives of U.S foreign policy," the Congress members wrote.

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 20 sessions of public flogging for "insulting Islam" on his website Free Saudi Liberals. His lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced to 15 years and issued a 15-year travel ban for, among other charges, "inciting public opinion."

"Canceling the sentences against Mr. Raif Badawi and Mr. Waleed Abu al-Khair, and releasing immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience punished solely for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression, would be important steps that would communicate your commitments to an expectant international audience," the letter said.

President Obama insists his administration has applied "steady and consistent pressure" on Saudi Arabia to improve human rights in the country. However, the America's ally remains notorious for its human rights record. In its annual world report, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch noted that the country had stepped up its crackdown against peaceful dissidents in 2013 and continued to restrict the rights of women and foreign workers.

"As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention. In 2013, courts convicted seven human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms," HRW detailed.

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  • 1 "He will be remembered for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths"
    - David Cameron
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Samira Rahmoon, center, the wife of Lebanese TV psychic Ali Sibat who was arrested by the Saudi religious police in May 2008 and sentenced to death last November on charges of practicing witchcraft, tries to block the road with her daughter Jamal, appealing for her husband's release just months after he escaped a sentence of beheading.
  • 2 'King Abdullah was a strong advocate of women'
    - Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF
    FAYEZ NURELDINE via Getty Images
    A Saudi woman gets into a taxi at a mall in Riyadh, because of the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia
  • 3 "Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country"
    - Tony Blair
    A woman beheaded in the street, after she was found guilty of killing her husband's six-year-old daughter, is seen screaming her innocence. A policeman was arrested following the uploading of the footage.
  • 4 "His contribution to the prosperity and security of the Kingdom and the region will long be remembered."
    - Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary
    A leaked video shows three men being publicly beheaded in Saudi.
  • 5 "I found His Majesty always to be a wise and reliable ally, helping out nations build on a strategic relationship and enduring friendship"
    - Former US president George HW Bush
    Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA
    Protesters hold a rally in front of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC to protest of the persecution and punishment of Saudi activist Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes simply for publishing a blog criticizing the Saudi monarchy
  • 6 "As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah's legacy"
    - Barack Obama
    NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images
    Protesters simulate a flogging in front of the Saudi embassy during a demonstration against the 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes of Saudi activist Raef Badawi, who received a first installment of 50 lashes and was scheduled to have 20 weekly whipping sessions until his punishment is complete.
  • 7 "He was also a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East and standing as a critical partner in the war on terror"
    - Republican Senator John McCain
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Saudis gather as police forces surround a mosque to hunt wanted militants, in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, after one-month amnesty, in 2004
  • 8 "A brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace"
    - Secretary of State John Kerry
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A Saudi driver stops in front of a billboard bearing logos of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - better known as the Saudi religious police, who enforce beliefs of the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam.
  • 9 "A powerful voice for tolerance, moderation and peace - in the Islamic world and across the globe"
    - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel
    REX
    The death penalty can be imposed for murder, rape, blasphemy, armed robbery, drug use, apostasy, adultery, and witchcraft.
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