This evening members of Amnesty International Ireland and the National Union of Journalists gathered outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Dublin to call for the release of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi and stand in solidarity with all those imprisoned or punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Arabian riyals last May for creating an online forum for public debate and the accusation that he “insulted Islam”. He was due to be flogged for the second time tomorrow but this is likely to be suspended again after a medical committee assessed yesterday that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds.
“Raif Badawi is an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience; his only ‘crime’ was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up a website for public discussion. Instead of continuing to torment him by dragging out his ordeal with repeated assessments the authorities should publicly announce an end to his flogging and release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
“Raif Badawi is still at risk, there is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead.”
“The treatment of Raif Badwai is an outrage, an affront to human decency but it has not occurred in isolation,” said Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists. “In 2014, the International Federation of Journalists counted 118 journalists killed worldwide. In the Middle East 29 were killed, (12 in Syria, 9 in Palestine, 8 in Iraq). In Asia Pacific 35 journalists were killed, including 14 in Pakistan and 9 in Afghanistan. Over 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last 10 years and governments across the globe have failed to act to protect journalism. In protesting at the treatment of Raif we are also calling for action to protect all media workers, as we did last week in Paris.”
Raif Badawi’s first flogging took place on 9 January when he received 50 lashes in public. The second flogging, due to take place 16 January, was postponed for the first time after a medical examiner concluded that his wounds had not yet healed properly and that he would not be able to withstand another round of lashes at that time.
“Flogging is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights along with governments internationally have issued statements condemning the treatment of Raif Badawi,” said Colm O’Gorman.
“The world’s spotlight is now shining on Saudi Arabia. If authorities ignore widespread criticism and continue with the flogging of Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia would be demonstrating contempt for international law and disregard for world opinion.”
Under international human rights law, protection of religious or other beliefs or the sensibilities of believers is not a permissible ground for restricting freedom of expression.
Amnesty International is calling for Raif Badawi’s sentence to be quashed and for him to be released immediately and unconditionally.
Raif Badawi was sentenced by the Criminal Court in Jeddah on 7 May 2014 to 10-years in prison and 1,000 lashes, followed by a 10-year travel ban, a ban on using media outlets, and a fine of one million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$266,600). The conviction and sentence stemmed from Raif Badawi’s creation of the Saudi Arabian Liberals website (which the court ordered to be closed) and the accusation that he had “insulted Islam”. The Court of Appeal in Jeddah upheld the sentence on 1 September.
A committee, comprised of around eight doctors, carried out a series of tests on Raif Badawi at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah yesterday, 21 January 2015, and recommended that the second flogging should not be carried out.
The governments of the USA, Canada, Germany and Norway among others have issued statements condemning the flogging of Raif Badawi. Thousands of people from across the world have expressed their outrage over the case on social media and hundreds have organised demonstrations in front of Saudi Arabian embassies worldwide.