A Saudi Arabian blogger imprisoned for starting a liberal online forum to encourage discussion and debate in his country may not be able to withstand a second flogging this Friday, his wife says.
Raif Badawi was sentenced last May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes by a Saudi court for “insulting Islam.” Last Friday he endured the first round of lashes -- 50 strikes on the back of his body by a long, hard cane -- in a public flogging held in the city of Jiddah. This Friday, he will reportedly be subjected to a second round of 50 lashes.
“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor and I’m certain he will not be able to cope with another round of lashes,” Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haider, told Amnesty International.
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Badawi was sent to prison and assigned weekly public canings for launching the Free Saudi Liberals website. According to the Associated Press, he was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals, or about $266,000. His website has been shut down.
Badawi's lawyer, human rights activist Waleed Abul-Khair, has reportedly also been sentenced to a lengthy jail term: 15 years imprisonment, as well as a subsequent 15-year travel ban. He was found guilty by a Saudi anti-terrorism court of "undermining the regime and officials," ''inciting public opinion" and "insulting the judiciary," per the AP.
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According to the AP, Badawi received his first flogging in a public square outside a Jiddah mosque in front of “hundreds of spectators.”
“Raif was escorted from a bus and placed in the middle of the crowd, guarded by eight or nine officers,” a witness of the flogging told Amnesty International. “He was handcuffed and shackled but his face was not covered -- everyone could see his face.”
“A security officer approached him from behind with a huge cane and started beating him,” the witness, whose name has not been released, continued. “Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. "He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.”
The 50 lashes were reportedly delivered in quick succession with no break in between. According to News.com.au, Badawi will be publicly flogged in this manner every Friday for 20 weeks.
An unverified video that allegedly captured last Friday’s flogging has been uploaded onto YouTube. Badawi’s wife, who fled to Canada with their three children, told CNN that watching the video was incredibly difficult.
“It’s a scene I cannot describe, it was horrible,” she told the news outlet. “Every lash killed me.”
Human rights groups have condemned Saudi Arabia -- which has a history of brutally quashing free speech -- for its treatment of Badawi and have called for his immediate release.
"It is horrifying to think that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa, per CNN.
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Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, said last week that the U.N. human rights office was "deeply concerned about the flogging.”
The U.S. State Department has called for Saudi Arabia to “review Badawi’s case” and stop its “inhumane” punishment.
Badawi’s wife told Amnesty International that “international pressure” will be crucial in the fight to save her husband.
“I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off. We must keep on fighting,” she told the rights group.