Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who fell victim to the country's brutal and repressive legal system, has been awarded the International Publishers Association's Prix Voltaire for his contribution to freedom of speech.
Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in
prison and 1,000 lashes for publishing a liberal and atheistic blog. He was arrested in 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam and indicted on several charges including apostasy. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in
2013, and then re-sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine in 2014. The sentence was upheld by the Saudi supreme court in June. In December, it was reported that Badawi had gone on hunger strike.
His wife Ensar Haider Mohammed,
who is travelling to London to collect the award on Badawi's behalf, has called on the world's writers to continue applying pressure of regimes that do not tolerate free speech. S he told the Guardian:
become a symbol for the fight for freedom of expression and the right to publish ideas in writing. My husband once wrote that freedom of expression is the 'air that any thinker breathes and the fuel that ignites the fire of his or her ideas', and he was
This is why he is wasting away in jail today, and precisely why the world's free writers should use their freedom of expression as a weapon in the war on oppression.
Saudi Arabia repeatedly interrupted an American NGO at an extraordinary meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, as the organisation read out a statement criticising their imprisoning of a man on charges of atheism and running a liberal online forum.
The Center for Inquiry, a US non-profit advocating secular and humanist values, was stopped from speaking on three occasions by the delegation from Saudi Arabia who protested against their raising of specific incidents of human rights abuse.
The case raised was that of Raif Badawi, co-founder of the Saudi Arabian Free Liberals website, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a $266,000 fine in May. He was convicted of violating Islamic values and slurring Saudi
Arabia's religious symbols, which drew the ire of Amnesty International who described the ruling as outrageous .
The Center criticised Badawi's conviction at the Council, saying Mr Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of
nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression, which prompted the Saudi delegation to interrupt the statement.
We believe that what is being said by this
organisation is completely outside of the mandate of this report, said a Saudi delegate, adding we request that they stop their intervention.
Four member states, including the United States, then responded to the intervention,
supporting the right of NGOs to raise specific human rights cases during Council sessions. This allowed the Center for Inquiry's spokesperson to continue speaking and call for Badawi's conviction to be quashed.
We call on Saudi Arabia, as a
newly elected member of this council, to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for 'blasphemy', 'insulting Islam', or 'apostasy', the spokesperson said. As an elected member of
this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', they added.
Activists in Saudi Arabia face a repressive and intolerant government as they advocate popular political participation, judicial reform, and an end to discrimination against women and minorities, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Authorities have responded by arresting, prosecuting, and attempting to silence rights defenders and to quash their calls for change.
The 48-page report, Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia,
presents the stories of 11 prominent Saudi social and political rights activists and their struggles to resist government efforts to suppress them. The activists have used new media, including news websites and blogs, and social media tools such as
Twitter and Facebook, to build relationships with one another, discuss ideas and strategies for change, and develop public platforms to disseminate their reform message.
Saudi activists are using new media to take their
government to task for rampant rights abuses, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. The Saudi authorities think they can use intimidation and prison terms to stop the criticism, but the activists are finding ways to
voice their concerns until they are heard.
A Saudi judge has sentenced a political activist to 300 lashes and four years in prison for calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, his rights group said.
Omar al-Saeed is the fourth member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights
Association (ACPRA) to be jailed this year after the group issued statements attacking the ruling family over its human rights record and calling for democracy.
Saeed, who has also been issued with a worldwide travel ban for his so-called
transgressions, did not have legal representation at the secret hearing when he was sentenced, ACPRA said in a statement on its website. And he has issued a scathing attack on the ruling elite who exacted the medieval punishment:
I am the proud prisoner Omar Mohammed al-Saed. I read out to you the motives and causes of my imprisonment: my hatred of injustice, the fabrication of pain and misery, taking advantage of passive attitudes, treating them as if they
were fools, and denying them their livelihoods for brutal personal ambition.
This unjust sentence is an honour and pride to Omar al-Saed and a disgrace and shame to Judge Issa al-Matrudi.
Saudi authorities should immediately drop all charges against the detained editor of a website created to foster debate about religion and religious figures in Saudi Arabia.
On December 17, 2012, the Jeddah District Court, which had been hearing
the case against the editor, Raif Badawi, referred it to a higher court on a charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty. The charges against him, based solely to Badawi's involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion
and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression.
Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said:
Badawi's life hangs in the balance because he set up a liberal website
that provided a platform for an open and peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures. Saudi Arabia needs to stop treating peaceful debate as a capital offense.
A member of Badawi's family told Human Rights Watch that
during the December 17 hearing, Judge Muhammad al-Marsoom prevented Badawi's lawyer from representing his client in court and demanded that Badawi repent to God. The judge informed Badawi that he could face the death penalty if he did not repent
and renounce his liberal beliefs, the family member said.
Badawi refused, leading Judge al-Marsoom to refer the case to the Public Court of Jeddah, recommending that it try Badawi for apostasy.
Prior to the December 17 hearing, Badawi had
been charged with insulting Islam through electronic channels and going beyond the realm of obedience, neither of which carries the death penalty. A different judge presided over five sessions of the trial but was replaced without
explanation for the December 17 hearing by Judge al-Marsoom.
Security forces arrested Badawi, a 30-year-old from the port city of Jeddah, on June 17. Badawi in 2008 was co-founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, an online platform for debating
religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.
court sentenced Raef Badawi to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for setting up a "liberal" network and alleged insults to Islam, activists said.
A judge had referred Badawi in December to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a
charge that could lead to the death penalty in the ultra-conservative kingdom. But thankfully the charge of apostasy was dropped.
A court in
Saudi Arabia has sentenced the editor of an internet forum he founded to discuss the role of religion in the country to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, according to reports in the Saudi media.
Raif Badawi, who started the Free Saudi Liberals
website, was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in July last year, but an appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial.
Apart from imposing a stiffer sentence on Badawi in his retrial, the judge at the
criminal court in Jeddah also fined him 1m riyals. Badawi's website has been closed since his first trial.
His lawyers said the sentence was too harsh, although the prosecutor had demanded a harsher penalty, the news website Sabq reported. The
ruling is subject to appeal.
Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri, a Saudi blogger imprisoned in January for writing about his decision to convert to Christianity, was released by Saudi authorities at the end of March 2009 instead of being put death as an apostate as prescribed by Sharia.
However, he has been banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia or appearing in the media.
According to Hamoud himself, who is back writing on his Christ for Saudi blog, his release is due to pressure brought on Saudi authorities by the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, one of several rights groups that have
campaigned for his release.
Following his arrest in January, the Saudi authorities blocked access to his blog inside Saudi Arabia. Google then censored the blog with a bollox claim of a technical violation of their terms of service, before
restoring it on 5 February 2009 following public pressure.
The relative leniency of the Saudi police and regime in this case has surprised some analysts, given Hamoud's explicit claim to have left Islam, which amounts to apostasy punishable by
death, and his outspoken criticism of the regime, something which is not normally tolerated.