US-ally Saudi Arabia flogs liberal activist Raif Badawi in public Friday near a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, receiving 50 lashes for “insulting Islam,” witnesses said.
Badawi, 30, was arrested in June 2012 and charged with offenses ranging from cyber crime to disobeying his father and apostasy, or abandoning his faith.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,666) and 1,000 lashes last year after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as being too lenient.
Witnesses said that Badawi was flogged after the weekly Friday prayers near Al-Jafali mosque as a crowd of worshipers looked on.
Badawi was driven to the site in a police car, and taken out of the vehicle as a government employee read out the charges against him to the crowd.
The blogger was made to stand with his back to onlookers as another man began flogging him, witnesses said, adding that Badawi did not make any sound or cry in pain.
The faithful who had emerged from noon prayers watched in silence and were ordered by security forces not to take any pictures on their mobile phones.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the punishment was “barbaric” and noted its timing after Saudi Arabia condemned Wednesday’s deadly attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
“Although Saudi Arabia condemned yesterday’s cowardly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it is now preparing to inflict the most barbaric punishment on a citizen who just used his freedom of expression and information,” Reporters Without Borders program director Lucie Morillon said Thursday.
Badawi, who has been in jail since 2012, is a “prisoner of conscience”, said London-based Amnesty International, demanding his release.
Badawi is the co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network along with women’s rights campaigner Suad al-Shammari, who was arrested last October and also accused of “insulting Islam.”
“Flogging and other forms of corporal punishment are prohibited under international law, which prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Amnesty’s Philip Luther.
Badawi’s website included articles critical of senior Saudi religious figures and others from Muslim history.
Saudi Arabia’s legal code follows a medieval version of Sharia law. Judges are trained as religious scholars and have a broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of religious texts.
The new Saudi terrorism law issued early this year casts a wide net over what it considers to be “terrorism.”
Human rights organizations and activists have called on Saudi Arabia to end death sentences and other brutal punishments, accusing the Saudi regime of curbing freedom of speech and opinion.
Western-allied Saudi Arabia has beheaded six since the start of 2015 in the oil-rich kingdom.
Last year, Saudi Arabia executed 87 people, up from 78 in 2013, according to an AFP tally.
Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are punishable by death in the kingdom.
Political activism can also be penalized by death, as US-ally Saudi Arabia, like neighboring Bahrain, has taken a zero tolerance approach to all attempts at protest or dissent in the kingdom, including by liberal rights activists, Islamists, and members of the Shia minority.
Saudi judges have this year passed death sentences down to five pro-democracy advocates, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, for their part in protests.