Prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia: spare a thought for Raif Badawi

Despite strong protests from around the world, Saudi regime shows no intention of paying the slightest attention

Spare a thought this morning for Raif Badawi. Unless a doctor orders a delay, the liberal Saudi blogger will be brought down to the square outside al-Jafali mosque in his home city of Jeddah, and after Friday prayers face his second round of 50 lashes from a long cane. And the same every Friday for the next 18 weeks .

Badawi was sentenced last May to 10 years' imprisonment and 1,000 lashes, and fined 1 million Saudi riyals (€230,000) for "insulting Islam", largely a democratic critique of the regime and its extremist Wahabbist religious rulers . He has been held since mid-2012, and his Free Saudi Liberals website, established to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia, is closed.

On Wednesday his lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, a prominent human rights activist, also received an additional five years in jail on top of a ten-year sentence after he refused to show remorse or recognise the court. His offences included breaking his allegiance to King Abdullah, showing disrespect for the authorities, and creating an unauthorised association.

Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, has told Amnesty International, which has adopted the two men as prisoners of conscience, that she fears her husband may not be able to physically withstand a second round of 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," she warned.


Despite strong protests from around the world, the Saudi regime shows no intention of paying the slightest attention. It has long form. An absolute monarchy with both an appalling human rights record and a longstanding record as a funder of Islamist extremism and terrorism, it also retains a special status as a protected ally of the West. Its oil, massive budget for Western-produced arms, and its conservative politics shield it from any serious talk of sanctions. While last weekend its ministers, in an act of breathtaking hypocrisy, marched with 1.5 million heartbroken Parisians in support of freedom of expression.

Spare a thought for Raif Badawi.