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Demo gegen die Auspeitschung des Bloggers Raif Badawi in Den Haag
Image: Beekman/AFP/Getty Images

Flogging freedom

Peter Hille / dc
January 16, 2015

Despite international protest, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is to publicly face 50 more lashes as part of his 1,000-lash sentence. Human rights activists are calling on the German government to intervene on his behalf.

https://p.dw.com/p/1ELOP

The prisoner, dressed in a white shirt, stands up straight. In front of him are a dozen uniformed police officers. Behind him, an officer with a cane strikes him relentlessly over the back of his body. After 50 lashes, the scene ends with the assembled men applauding and calling out "God is great."

The first flogging of Raif Badawi was likely filmed in secret in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah on January 9. Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, told CNN that the video was hard to bear. "The whole scene was horrible. Each lash killed me," she said.

The scene is due to repeat itself on Friday. Badawi, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for running his blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum. He is set to receive a further 50 lashes each week over 19 more weeks, because his blog was deemed to be "insulting to Islam."

"This is a massive crime against human rights," Ruth Jüttner of Amnesty International told DW. "The lashings amount to torture and we demand that the punishment be stopped and that Raif Badawi be released from prison."

Pictureteaser Free Raif

Protest in Berlin

Jüttner, together with other activists, took these demands to the Saudi Arabian embassy in Berlin during a protest action on Thursday. Amnesty International handed embassy staff more than 50,000 letters of protest. They also used loudspeakers to broadcast the sound that the cane makes in front of the embassy building in Berlin's Tiergarten park. Amnesty International organized similar protest actions in Poland, the United States, Finland, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Badawi's wife, who lives with the couple's three children in exile in Canada, has also commented on her husband's health, Jüttner said. "He is suffering from the pain," she said. "It's physical as well as psychological pain. Because it's a public spectacle, being flogged openly on the street."

Violation against humanity

Norbert Lammert, president of the German parliament, mentioned Badawi's case during a speech he gave on Thursday to address the terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris. "State sanctioned violations against the minimum standards of humanity are also being carried out in God's name," said Lammert.

Like almost all countries around the world, Saudi Arabia condemned the attacks in Paris, only to publicly flog Raif Badawi just two days later.

Lammert mentioned the accusation against Badawi of "insulting Islam and insurgency against the authorities" and made clear: "Without questioning handed down beliefs and criticism of the status quo, there is no progress or freedom." That's why freedom of opinion, of art, and not least, the press is of such crucial significance for life in democratic societies, he said.

Too timid?

Badawi is just one of many cases where the Saudi authorities violate these freedoms, said Jüttner. They have locked up many defenders of human rights, including Badawi's lawyer, Walid Abulkhair. "He was sentenced to 15 years and is also in prison. It is really high time that these things be discussed clearly," she said. But she and many others say that the German government has been too timid in this respect because it doesn't want to lose Saudi Arabia as a partner both economically and in the fight against Islamic State.

Annette Groth, parliamentary spokeswoman for human rights issues for the Left Party put it in more drastic terms: "In supporting the government of Saudi Arabia, the German government is supporting one of the most backward, undemocratic governments in the region – not to mention one of the biggest financers of terrorists ­– in the name of trade interests and geostrategic considerations." She called the Badawi's flogging "barbaric" and demanded that the German government work to secure his release.

Ensaf Haidar Frau vom Blogger Raif Badawi beim Protest in Montreal 13.01.2015
Image: picture alliance/empics

Birthday in prison

Following the first flogging of Badawi, the German government's human rights commissioner, Christoph Strässer, spoke of a human rights violation. It was a "contradiction of the international human rights duties that Saudi Arabia is subject to," he said.

Badawi's wife has raised doubts about how long her husband will be able to withstand the torture. She fears that he could soon suffer a breakdown. On Tuesday, the blogger marked his 31st birthday, in prison, far away from his wife and children, and just days before being subjected to a second lashing in public.

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