Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger and activist sentenced to 1,000 lashes for charges including “insulting Islam” and “parental disobedience,” has gone unpunished for three consecutive weeks without explanation, leading to speculation that his case may soon be suspended.
The international outcry over Badawi has only increased since his punishment began in January. An online petition, begun by seven members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has gathered 250 signatures of Americans who “want to volunteer to take the flogging in Raif’s place.” The petition is available at takelashes4raif.org.
In their original letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the religious freedom commissioners, who include Christians, Muslims and Jews appointed by Democrats and Republicans, wrote that “if your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully request that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him.”
Adam Coogle, an analyst for Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that “international pressure has likely played a role in suspending this.” The Saudi authorities who convicted Badawi, he said, “didn’t know how high-profile and well-known he was to the human rights community,” underestimating the potential backlash. He also noted that despite following many similar cases in Saudi Arabia, “I’ve never seen a punishment as high” as 1,000 lashes.
The sentence was expected to be carried out 50 lashes at a time after Friday prayers for 20 consecutive Fridays. But after the first week’s punishment, a medical examination led to a temporary delay for fear of harming Badawi’s health. There have been no known beatings since then. (RELATED: Saudis Postpone Floggings For Health Of ‘Blasphemer’)
Upon the recent death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, to whom Badawi’s family had appealed for clemency, some speculated that his successor King Salman would be more lenient. While Salman has issued a conditional amnesty or reduction in sentences for some crimes, Coogle says the rules of Badawi’s sentence are too opaque to know if it meets the criteria.
Badawi, who set up a website for free political discussion, made several legal appeals to the Saudi judicial system, during which a charge of apostasy from Islam was dropped. However, he was charged with insulting national religious leaders, construed as insulting Islam itself, as well as “parental disobedience” for a public dispute with his father.
His long-time lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, is now serving a 15-year jail sentence as well.
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