Today marks the fifth anniversary of activist and blogger Raif Badawi’s imprisonment in Saudi Arabia on charges of apostasy and allegedly insulting Islam in his blog “Free Saudi Liberals.” Americans for Democracy (ADHRB) strongly condemns his continued imprisonment and the Saudi government’s suppression of free expression and targeting of critics.
Saudi authorities detained Badawi on 17 June 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience.” The charges stem from his blog “Free Saudi Liberals,” in which Badawi challenged some of the central tenets of Saudi society, including the important role of religion in the kingdom. In addition to challenging the centrality of religion in Saudi society, Badawi’s blog largely consist of debates about liberal political and social issues. As a result of his comments, authorities sentenced him to 10 years and 1,000 lashes as well as a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals – $266,000.
“Raif Badawi’s continued imprisonment for his expression is a blatant example of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing criminalization of expression and opinions critical of the Saudi government. He stands guilty of nothing more than expressing ideas about politics and Saudi society,” states Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “The international community must take immediate action to secure Raif’s release and the dropping of all of the spurious charges against him. Freedom of expression should not be a crime, but should be protected by law.”
Raif is among many peaceful dissidents of the Saudi government who have been imprisoned for criticizing Saudi politics and society. In 2013, Saudi courts convicted two of the members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, leading to the human rights and political reform group’s shutdown. In April 2014, one month before authorities sentenced Badawi to prison, officials jailed human rights activist and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair. Also in April 2014, authorities sentenced human rights activist Fadhel al-Manasif to 15 years in prison for his work in the Eastern Province.
ADHRB condemns the targeting and prosecution of activists for expressing dissenting opinions about Saudi Arabia’s political and society system. We call for immediate release of Raif Badawi from prison and the dropping of all charges against him, in particular the 1,000 lashes. We further call on Saudi Arabia to enact legal protections for freedom of speech in line with international standards.