Saudi Government Denies Medicine to Religious Prisoner of Conscience

Sep 20, 2019

September 20, 2019

USCIRF calls for immediate Release of blogger Raif Badawi

WASHINGTON DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns Saudi Arabia’s intensified mistreatment of religious prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi. The Saudi government has denied Badawi access to books and to crucial medicine, and he has declared a hunger strike in protest. Saudi Arabia arrested Badawi in 2012 on charges of “apostasy” and insulting Islam. USCIRF has advocated for Saudi Arabia to release Raif Badawi since 2013 and recommended that Congress and the administration continue do the same in its 2019 annual report.

“USCIRF is calling on Saudi Arabia to cease its mistreatment of Raif Badawi and to release him immediately,” said USCIRF Vice-Chair Nadine Maenza, who adopted Badawi as part of the Commission’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. “Saudi Arabia has made Badawi’s family suffer for years by punishing him for peacefully expressing his beliefs. This crackdown directly contradicts the Saudi government’s official narrative of working toward greater modernization and improving religious freedom conditions.”

Badawi was the author of the Free Saudi Liberals blog where he wrote articles that peacefully challenged religious doctrine that the Saudi government espouses and enforces. In 2015, a Saudi court upheld against him a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, 1000 whip lashes, and a one million riyal ($266,000) fine. In January 2015, Mr. Badawi received 50 lashes publicly outside a Jeddah mosque, but has not since faced further public whippings. Mr. Badawi suffers from chronic medical conditions and observers have expressed concern he is already in ill health.

During the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Vice President Michael R. Pence called for Badawi’s release. However, since 2006 the State Department has maintained a waiver for Saudi Arabia that prevents otherwise legislatively mandated action to which it would be subject as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. USCIRF first recommended the waiver be lifted that same year.

Americans should be outraged that Saudi Arabia continues to target peaceful thinkers like Raif Badawi on the basis of their beliefs,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin. “The State Department should lift the waiver shielding Saudi Arabia from consequences mandated by U.S. law of these systematic violations of religious freedom.


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at or Kellie Boyle at or +1-703-898-6554.