Foreign Affairs ‘concerned’ at Saudi Arabia flogging

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to receive 50 lashes today as part of sentence

Amnesty International staging a protest demanding the  release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in The Hague, the Netherlands. The Department of Foreign Affairs  said the “nature and severity” of the penalty   is a “cause of concern”. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/EPA

Amnesty International staging a protest demanding the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in The Hague, the Netherlands. The Department of Foreign Affairs said the “nature and severity” of the penalty is a “cause of concern”. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/EPA

 

The “nature and severity” of the penalty imposed on jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, who will receive 50 lashes later today, is a “cause of concern” to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In response to questions from The Irish Times about its plans to advocate for Mr Badawi, the department said it was the “frequently expressed view of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade that greater impact is derived from 28 member States speaking with one voice on matters of foreign policy including human rights”.

It added that the case of Mr Badawi had been raised by the EU on behalf of its member states “both when he was convicted last year and again last week”.

The department declined to say whether it had addressed the matter with the Saudi embassy in Ireland.

10 years in jail

The punishment was a response to his website Free Saudi Liberals, which he founded to promote secularism and increased freedom of speech within the country. Among numerous posts, he wrote that “states which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear”.

There has been criticism that the flogging was carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Saudi officials joined other world leaders on last Sunday’s march in Paris.

The authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia has long been a source of concern to human rights observers, especially its repressive attitudes to women’s rights. Its links to the Sisi and Assad governments in Egypt and Syria have also attracted criticism.

However, the country enjoys solid diplomatic relations with key western allies, including the US and the UK . It is a major oil provider to the West.

There are also strong and growing economic ties between Ireland and Saudi Arabia. According to CSO figures released this week Ireland’s exports to Saudi Arabia from January to November 2014 were worth €668 million, an increase of 10 per cent over the same period in 2013.

Important market

However, the department added that it had “never shied away from addressing human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia”. For example, it had “made strong and clear recommendations to Saudi Arabia during its review under the UN Universal Peridoic Review procedure in October 2013”.

Amnesty International has been calling for Mr Badawi’s release and greater concentration on human rights within Saudi Arabia. The organisation’s Irish director, Colm O’Gorman, said it was his expectation that “Ireland would not just raise this case which needs to be urgently addressed but other human rights issues that a part of its bilateral engagement with Saudi”.

Mr Badawi’s supporters say his case is part of a wider crackdown on dissent within the kingdom, with other regime critics facing lengthy prison sentences too.

An online video made public last week shows the father of three being beaten with a wooden cane as he is shackled to a frame. There is cheering among some of the crowd who gather to watch.