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Raif Badawi: a year after sentencing, rights groups urge blogger's release

It has been a year since Saudi Arabian writer and blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam." Human rights groups have called on Riyadh to release him.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been imprisoned for nearly three years, but Thursday marks a full 365 days since he was convicted of insulting Islam online. Badawi, 31, was sentenced to a decade in jail and 1,000 lashes - receiving 50 in January.

The flogging was supposed to continue weekly, but has been suspended on health grounds. The case has received worldwide attention and harsh criticism from the United Nations, United States and the European Union, including Germany.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel led a business delegation to Saudi Arabia in March, saying the case was testing bilateral ties. The punishment is "unfathomable to us," Gabriel said at the time.

On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the Saudi government to lift Badawi's sentence. "It is high time the judgment is set aside," the organization said. It has also taken aim at new King Salman, saying he had not made progress towards improving the country's "appalling record" on human rights.

Deutsche Welle awarded Badawi its first Freedom of Expression Award in February and announced that his wife, Ensaf Haidar, would accept the prize on his behalf.

"Raif was never a criminal, a gangster or drug dealer, but the Saudi authorities dealt with him like a criminal deserving of punishment, floggings and imprisonment for a long unspecified period," Haidar wrote in a letter to "The Independent" newspaper. "He was dreaming of and aspiring towards a beautiful world. He wanted us, in a country of one opinion, one way of thinking and one religion, to respect difference."

Saudi Arabia has said in the past it would not accept outside interference in its domestic affairs, and that the media outcry over Badawi's punishment attacked the independence of its judicial system.

jr/sms (dpa, AFP, epd)

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