Saudi blogger publicly flogged for insulting Islam

Raif Badawi(Photo: Facebook/Free Raif Badawi)

Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in May last year to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for 'ridiculing Islamic religious figures,' was set to be publicly flogged today outside a mosque in Jeddah, reports the Associated Press, citing a person close to the case.

The flogging was carried out after Friday prayers outside the Al-Jafali mosque according to Amnesty International and was to be the first of a series. Amnesty International said Badawi would receive 50 lashes once a week for 20 weeks.

The Saudi blogger was arrested in mid-2012 and charged with insulting Islam on Free Saudi Liberals, a website Badawi had created which is now shut down. The Jeddah Criminal Court found him guilty of cyber-crime last year and ordered him to pay 1m Saudi riyals, or about $266,000, in fines, aside from sentencing him with corporal punishment and a decade in prison.

The court also threw Badawi's lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, in jail, where he will stay for 15 years, for "undermining the regime and officials", "inciting public opinion" and "insulting the judiciary," according to the Associated Press. He is also barred from travelling for another 15 years.

The Daily Mail reports that Badawi faced accusations of apostasy as well, but was cleared of the crime. Had he been found guilty, Badawi would have faced the death penalty.

Rights groups and activists, who say Badawi's case is part of the Saudi Kingdom's wider effort to ensure law abidance and stamp out dissent, have condemned the liberal writer's punishment.

A source who spoke to the Associated Press but asked to remain unnamed said Badawi was "being used as an example for others to see."

Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, said: "It is horrifying to think that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression."

Badawi was originally sentenced to seven years imprisonment and 600 lashes, but the judge gave a more severe sentence after the online activist's case was appealed.

Badawi's wife and children have fled to Canada after his arrest.