PEN Canada Condemns Flogging of Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi

By | January 14, 2015 at 2:10 pm | No comments | Campaigns, News | Tags: , , ,

TORONTO, January 8, 2015 /CNW/ – PEN Canada joins human rights groups around the world in condemning the public flogging of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Mr. Badawi will reportedly receive the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes to which he has been sentenced for “insulting Islam” after Friday prayers on January 9, 2015.

“In a week overshadowed by violent intolerance, restraint by the Saudi authorities would send an invaluable message about the Kingdom’s capacity to tolerate dissenting opinions,” said Tasleem Thawar, Executive Director of PEN Canada. “We sincerely hope that they will seize this opportunity, commute Mr. Badawi’s sentence and release him unconditionally.”

Raif Badawi received PEN Canada’s annual One Humanity Award on the opening of the 35th International Festival of Authors on October 23, 2014. Introduced in 2006, the $5,000 award is given to a writer whose work “transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures.” Mr. Badawi, a founder of the progressive online forum Liberal Saudi Network, was recognized by PEN as an emblematic case for the right to freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Raif Badawi was arrested in Jeddah on June 17, 2012 after organizing a conference to mark a “day of liberalism.” On July 29, 2013, a court in Jeddah sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes after he was convicted under Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cybercrime Law of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and for “insulting Islam.” The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.

According to reports, at his appeal Badawi’s lawyer cited procedural and evidential reasons why the conviction should be overturned and Badawi freed. In December 2013, the Court of Appeal reportedly reversed the District Court in Jeddah’s ruling, and ordered a review by another court.

On May 7, 2014, Jeddah’s Criminal Court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (approx. CAD$290,000) on charges of “insulting Islam” and “founding a liberal website.” According to PEN’s information, when Badawi appeared in court to collect a written account of the verdict on May 28, he discovered the insertion of two additional penalties: a 10-year travel ban and 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic and written media, both to be applied following his release.

According to the Centre For Inquiry (CFI), in a post dated September 17, 2014, the Saudi appeals court in Mecca has confirmed the sentence against Badawi, and stated that the lashes will be administered 50 at a time, in public, every week after Friday Prayers.

PEN International is also protesting the arrest of Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, on April 15, 2014. Waleed Abu Al-Khair is a lawyer, human rights activist, and founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. On February 4, 2014, the Court of Appeal confirmed a three-month sentence against Abu Al-Khair, imposed after he had been convicted of contempt of the judiciary.

Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Criminalization of the peaceful criticism of public officials and institutions violates international human rights law. Corporal punishment such as flogging also violates the absolute prohibition under international law of all forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada


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