Trial and sentence
On 17 June 2012, he was arrested on a charge of insulting Islam through electronic channels, and in December of that year was also cited for apostasy, a conviction which carries an automatic death sentence. Human Rights Watch stated that Raif’s website had hosted material criticising “senior religious figures”. Raif had also suggested that Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University had become “a den for terrorists.”
Raif was first detained on apostasy charges in 2008, but was released after a day of questioning. The government banned him from leaving the country and froze his bank accounts in 2009. The family of Raif’s wife subsequently filed a court action to forcibly divorce the couple on grounds of Badawi’s alleged apostasy.
Following Raif’s 2012 arrest, Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression”. A spokesman for the group stated that, “Even in Saudi Arabia where state repression is rife, it is beyond the pale to seek the death penalty for an activist whose only ‘crime’ was to enable social debate online”. Human Rights Watch called for the government to drop the charges, stating, “The charges against him, based solely to Badawi’s involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression”.
Raif appeared before a district court in Jeddah on 17 December 2012 charged with “setting up a website that undermines general security”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”, and “going beyond the realm of obedience”. That judge referred Raif to a higher court for the charge of apostasy declaring that he “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy.” On 22 December, the General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy case. The higher court refused to hear the case and referred it back to the lower court.
On July 30, 2013, Saudi media reported that Raif Badawi had been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”. The court also ordered the website closed.
On December 26, 2013, Ensaf Haidar told CNN that a judge had recommended him to go before a high court for the apostasy charge which would result in a death penalty if convicted. On May 7, 2014 Raif was re-sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison. He also received a fine of 1 million riyal (equal to about $267,000).
Raif’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair has been jailed after setting up Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi human rights organisation. He is being charged for “setting up an unlicensed organisation” and for “breaking allegiance with the ruler”. His requests to license the organisation were denied. On July 7, 2014, Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, followed by a 15 year ban on travel. The Specialised Criminal Court in Jeddah found him guilty of “undermining the regime and officials”, “inciting public opinion” and “insulting the judiciary.”
Abulkhair told the BBC that Badawi had confirmed in court that he was a Muslim but told the judge “everyone has a choice to believe or not believe”. A few days after a court hearing Ensaf Haidar started getting anonymous death threats. She fled to Canada with their three children.
According to Human Rights Watch in its review of Saudi Arabia’s membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council, “Over the last year Saudi authorities have harassed, investigated, prosecuted, and jailed prominent peaceful dissidents and human rights activists on vague charges based solely on their peaceful practice of basic rights, particularly the right to free expression, including Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Bajadi, Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr, Omar al-Saeed, and Raif Badawi.” Kacem El Ghazzali spoke at the UN Human Rights Council representing the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) criticising Saudi Arabia for sentencing Raif Badawi to 7 years in jail and 600 lashes, IHEU called it a “gratuitous, violent sentence”.
“Since March 2011 the authorities have continued a relentless campaign of repression in the name of security. The authorities have cracked down on peaceful activists calling for reforms and on demonstrators protesting against human rights violations. Those who express dissent face arrest and imprisonment whether they are critics, bloggers, activists or academics. Raif Badawi is just one of many.” (Amnesty International, Canada)
In May 2014 it was reported that Raif was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes, as well as being ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals, for “insulting Islam”.
In mid-January 2015, the case was passed to the Saudi Supreme Court for review.
On March 1, 2015, Ensaf Haidar told reporters that judges in Saudi Arabia’s criminal court wanted to retry him for apostasy. If found guilty, he would be sentenced to death.
On January 9, 2015, Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators in front of a Jeddah mosque, the first in a series of 1,000 lashes to be carried out in over twenty weeks.
The incident was condemned by Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Said Boumedouha who said, “The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law. By ignoring international calls to cancel the flogging Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights principles.”
Philip Luther, also of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa section, said: “It is horrifying to think that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.”
Anne Sainte-Marie, a spokesperson for Amnistie internationale Canada francophone and a close friend of Raif’s wife, believed that he could not survive the lashes.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights said flogging is, “at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment” which international human rights law prohibits.
Al-Hussein, of the Jordanian royal family, appealed for the flogging to be halted and for Badawi to be pardoned, “and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.”
Sebastian Usher, Middle East analyst for the BBC, congratulated all those who protested on the streets, believing the protests had been effective. Usher said he suspected that Saudi leaders had been unprepared for the scale of international protest that resulted from the flogging.
Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar said, after hearing about the flogging, “What I felt was indescribable. It was an indescribable mixture of sadness and pain… It was painfully horrible to imagine what was happening to Raif.” Ensaf Haidar also said, “I appreciate all the attention that Raif’s case has been getting. I hope that all the governments in the world will intensify their efforts to pressure the authorities to stop what they intend doing to my husband. I believe they can do it, if they speak directly to the government in Saudi.”
Polly Toynbee wrote in The Guardian, “Today [the day demonstrations over Charlie Hebdo shootings were held] another 50 lashes with the cane rain down on Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia. ‘Je suis Raif’ is starting to trend on social media as he faces 19 more weeks of flogging for writing his secularist blog Free Saudi Liberals. Governments that flocked to march in solidarity for free speech in Paris last Saturday have done little about this atrocity – far worse when inflicted by a state than by God-delirious terrorists acting as divine executioners. If all those leaders linking arms turned their backs on any dealings with Saudi Arabia, whose Wahbabist insanity has been sent out to infect parts of the Muslim world, they would make more than a gesture for free speech.”
Honors and Awards
- Awarded the Freedom of Speech Award 2015 from Deutsche Welle
- Awarded the Courage Award 2015 from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
- Awarded the Aikenhead Award 2015 of Scottish Secular Society.
- Awarded the One Humanity Award 2014 From PEN Canada.
- Awarded the Netizen Prize of Reporters without Borders 2014.
- Honorary Member of PEN Canada.
- Honorary Member of PEN Denmark
- Honorary Member of PEN German
- Nominated by Spain’s Individual Freedom Party (P-LIB) for the 2014 Freedom Award.
- Nominated for the 2014 International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish Prize.
- Awarded The Honour of the City of Strasbourg, 2015
- Nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize 2015 along with Waleed
- Nominated for The Sakharov Prize 2015