Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been flogged in public near a mosque in Jeddah, receiving 50 lashes for "blasphemy." He is facing the punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison.
London-based Amnesty International, citing a witness who said Badawi (30) was flogged right after the weekly Friday prayers near the al-Jafali mosque as a crowd of worshippers looked on. Badawi was driven to the site in a police car and taken out of the vehicle as a government employee read out the charges against him to the crowd.
The blogger was made to stand with his back to onlookers as another man began flogging him, witnesses said, adding that Badawi did not make any sound or cry in pain. The faithful who had emerged from noon prayers watched in silence and were ordered by security forces not to take any pictures on their mobile phones.
"We are greatly concerned about reports that human rights activist Raef Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on the eve of flogging, slamming it as an "inhumane punishment."
US government condemns the sentencing
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the punishment was "barbaric" and noted its timing after Saudi Arabia condemned Wednesday's deadly attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
"Although Saudi Arabia condemned yesterday's cowardly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it is now preparing to inflict the most barbaric punishment on a citizen who just used his freedom of expression and information," Reporters Without Borders program director Lucie Morillon said.
Last year, a Saudi court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined him a million Saudi riyals (about 266,600 US dollars). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia applies a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, which enforces the death penalty for certain offences. Saudi authorities have repeatedly defended their penal system saying it is necessary to deter potential offenders and maintain security.
Badawi is the co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network along with women's rights campaigner Suad al-Shammari, who was arrested last October and also accused of "insulting Islam."
jil/sb (dpa, AFP)