15 Jan 2015

#FreeRaif: vigils held against flogging of Saudi blogger

A candlelit vigil is held outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London, against the public flogging of blogger, Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes, as activists criticise the UK’s response.

Raif Badawi

On 9 January, the Saudi writer was lashed 50 times as the first part of his sentence to be flogged 1,000 lashes over a course of 20 weeks.

Ahead of the planned second instalment of 50 lashes on Friday 16 January, human rights organisation Amnesty International called for the UK government to act against the sentencing.

Read Jon Snow's blog: Human rights: weapons exports, floggings and extremism

Mr Badawi, 31, is expected to serve a 10-year jail sentence, and a fine of £175,000 for offences related to his setting up of an online forum for public debate, as well as accusations he insulted Islam.

Demonstrators turned out with images of the blogger and placards emblazoned with the words “Free Raif” outside Saudi Arabian embassies across European cities including in London, Paris, and Berlin today.

The US, Canadian, German and Norwegian governments are among several others who have issued statements expressing concern and condemning the punishment.

During prime minister’s question time on Wednesday, David Cameron added his voice to the debate, telling the House of Commons that he didn’t “approve of these sorts of punishments.”

He mentioned: “We always raise these cases when British citizens are involved in the strongest possible way and I know we will on this occasion too.”

The UK government has been criticised for not issuing a stronger response to the actions.

Although the Foreign Office has said it was “concerned” about the reports, many have taken to Twitter to express their anger.

Amnesty International UK director, Kate Allen, said that ministers were being “muzzled” by Saudi Arabia. She said: “Our ministers rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh.

Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? Kate Allen, Amnesty International

“Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK’s credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

“David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear – that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail.”

‘I’m certain he will not be able to cope with another round of lashes’

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, spoke out on Thursday saying that she fears her husband may not be able to physically withstand a second round of lashes.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor and I’m certain he will not be able to cope with another round of lashes,” she said.

“I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial, I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off.

“We must keep on fighting.”