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Raif Badawi

Country: Saudi Arabia

Key Fact: Blogger

Detained Since: June 27, 2012

Charges: Violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought

Sentence: 10 year imprisonment, 1,000 lashes, a fine of 1 million riyals (equal to about $266,000), and is banned from any media work or foreign travel for 10 years after his release from prison

Biography: Raif Badawi was born January 13, 1984, in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. He is a blogger, activist, and the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, which encourages debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.

First detained on apostasy charges in 2008, Mr. Badawi was released after a day of questioning. He was arrested on June 17, 2012, on a charge of insulting Islam through electronic channels and brought to court on several charges including apostasy, a conviction which carries an automatic death sentence. Human Rights Watch stated that Badawi's website had hosted material criticizing "senior religious figures." Mr. Badawi had also suggested that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become "a den for terrorists."

Mr. Badawi appeared before a district court in Jeddah on December 17, 2012, charged with "setting up a website that undermines general security," "ridiculing Islamic religious figures," and "going beyond the realm of obedience." On July 30, 2013, the Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Badawi to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that "violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought." On May 7, 2014, an appeals court increased the punishment to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. He also received a fine of 1 million riyals (equal to about $266,000) and is banned from any media work or foreign travel for 10 years after his release from prison.

On January 9, 2015, Mr. Badawi was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators in front of a Jeddah mosque. He has not received additional floggings, due partly to international reaction and partly to a medical doctor’s finding that he could not physically endure more lashings. On June 7, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court denied another appeal from Badawi and upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes.

Mr. Badawi received the 2015 Sakharov Prize for his human rights work. Raif Badawi married Ensaf Haidar in 2002 in Saudi Arabia; they have three children. His wife and children obtained political asylum in Quebec, Canada in 2013.


USCIRF Advocate 

Commissioner Clifford D. May  

Commissioner Advocacy

Article: Catholic News Agency -- US leaders tell persecuted believers: 'You are not alone' (April 6, 2017)

Related Reports & Briefs

2017 Annual Report chapter on Saudi Arabia (Arabic translation) 


Op-Ed:  Make Saudi Arabia's Vision of Tolerance a Reality (Deseret News, July 23, 2017)
Press Release: SAUDI ARABIA: Release Raif Badawi (July 28, 2016)
Op-Ed: USA Today -- Rampant religious persecution against atheists (May 3, 2016) 

Advising Government

Congressional Testimony: Testimony of USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J., on "Blasphemy Laws and Censorship by States and Non-State Actors" (July 14, 2016) 

Other Resources