Lucy Popescu

Raef Badawi & Walid Abu al-Khair

On 7 May 2014, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced blogger and website editor Raef Badawi (LR, February 2013) to ten years in prison, one thousand lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals (approximately £158,000). After creating an online forum, Liberal Saudi Network, aimed at fostering political and social debate in Saudi Arabia, Badawi was charged with ‘insulting Islam’, ‘adopting liberal thought’ and ‘founding a liberal website’ by Jeddah’s Criminal Court. Badawi was subsequently served with a ten-year travel ban and ten-year media participation ban, which will both take effect upon his release. Criminalisation of the peaceful criticism of public officials and institutions is in contravention of international human rights law. Corporal punishment such as flogging also violates international law, which prohibits all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 in Jeddah after attempting to organise a conference, banned by the authorities, to mark a ‘day of liberalism’. He had to wait over a year to be tried. At one point Badawi faced the death sentence after a judge recommended that he be charged with apostasy. In July 2013, the Jeddah court sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and six hundred lashes. The judge ordered his website to be closed down.

An appeal, submitted by Walid Abu al-Khair, Badawi’s lawyer, cited procedural and evidential reasons why the conviction should be overturned and Badawi should be freed. In December last year, the Court of Appeal reversed the ruling of the District Court in Jeddah, ordering that Badawi’s case be sent for review by another court. Unfortunately in May he was served with a harsher sentence.

Badawi’s family has not been allowed to visit him. His wife currently lives in Canada. She claims that she has received threats from the Saudi embassy in Lebanon saying that they would kidnap her children and forcibly return them to Saudi Arabia. She told PEN that Badawi’s health has deteriorated in prison; he developed diabetes when he was first arrested and has heart problems. He is also suffering from malnutrition and because of the unsanitary prison conditions.

PEN is further concerned by the arrest of al-Khair on 15 April 2014. As well as representing various prisoners of conscience, al-Khair is himself a human rights activist, has written many critical articles and is the recipient of the 2012 Olof Palme Prize. According to PEN, al-Khair was unexpectedly arrested at the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh while attending the fifth session of an ongoing trial against him. Initially held in al-Hair prison, where it is thought he may have been subjected to ill-treatment, he was transferred on 27 May to Briman prison in Jeddah. He is currently facing almost identical charges to those he was convicted of by another criminal court in October 2013. Amnesty International believe that the Saudi Arabian authorities are punishing al-Khair for his work protecting and defending human rights and claim that his detention is an abuse of the justice system, which is being used in order to silence peaceful dissent.

Al-Khair is among a dozen prominent activists who were all sentenced last year to lengthy prison terms based on trumped-up charges. These included ‘breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler’, ‘disrespecting the authorities’, ‘offending the judiciary’, ‘inciting international organisations against the Kingdom’, ‘founding an unlicensed organisation’ (said to be the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia), ‘contributing to the establishment of another’ (the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association – ACPRA) and ‘preparing, storing and sending material harmful to public order’. Another criminal court in Jeddah sentenced al-Khair to three months in prison on similar charges related to ridiculing or offending the Saudi Arabian judiciary. The Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and sentence on 6 February 2014. In both court cases, the charges against al-Khair seem to be in response to his signing a petition that criticised the Saudi authorities’ harsh treatment of sixteen reformers.

Readers might like to send appeals condemning the Jeddah Criminal Court’s sentencing of editor Raef Badawi to ten years in prison, one thousand lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals, as well as a ten-year travel ban and ten-year media participation ban, on charges of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website’; urging the authorities to release Raef Badawi and Walid Abu al-Khair immediately and unconditionally as they are being held solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and calling for both men to be granted all necessary medical treatment and access to their families and lawyers of their choice.

Appeals should be sent to:

HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
London W1J 5DZ
Email via the website: www.saudiembassy.org.uk

His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
Office of His Majesty the King
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1403 3125

Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
Ministry of the Interior
Fax: +966 1403 3125

Minister of Justice
His Excellency Shaykh Dr Mohammed bin Abdulkareem al-Issa
Ministry of Justice
Fax: +966 1401 1741

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