USCIRF Statement on flogging of Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi


January 9, 2015 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is deeply disturbed by the news that a Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, was publicly flogged 50 times today in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as part of a punishment for a blasphemy conviction.  USCIRF has long followed Mr. Badawi’s case, expressed its grave concern, and called for his release.

“Today, Raif Badawi was the victim of a cruel and barbaric act carried out by the Saudi justice system – unfortunately, business as usual in the Kingdom.  And for nothing more than creating an online forum for diverse views to be expressed freely,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos-Swett.

In May 2014, a Saudi appeals court sentenced Mr. Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and fined him $1 million SR ($266,000 USD) for, among other charges, insulting Islam and religious authorities.  In July 2013, the court sentenced Badawi to 600 lashes and seven years in prison and his website was shut down.  An appeals court overturned that verdict, and the retrial resulted in the harsher sentence.  The current sentence calls for Mr. Badawi to be lashed 50 times a week for 20 consecutive weeks.

“The Commission welcomed a statement yesterday by the U.S. Department of State urging the Saudi government to cancel the flogging and to review Mr. Badawi’s case,” said Chair Lantos-Swett.  “Based on the facts of the case, the Commission joins the State Department in urging the Saudi government to cease any further lashings, and we also reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Badawi.  Mr. Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who simply exercised his internationally-guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and expression,” said Lantos-Swett. 

Mr. Badawi, the founder and editor of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was arrested in June 2012 in Jeddah and charged with crimes including apostasy and “insulting Islam” through electronic channels.  In January 2013, a Saudi court chose not to pursue the apostasy charge, which carries the death penalty.  Last year Mr. Badawi's lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced by the newly created anti-terror court to 15 years in jail after being found guilty of various trumped-up charges related to his work as a human rights defender.

The U.S. has designated Saudi Arabia for 10 years as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.  Although Saudi Arabia has been designated a CPC since 2004, an indefinite waiver on taking any action in consequence of the CPC designation (which is an option under the International Religious Freedom Act) has been in place since 2006.  

In its 2014 Annual Report, the Commission recommended that Saudi Arabia continue to be named a CPC.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.