Case of Saudi blogger referred to higher court as flogging postponed

Badawi's wife told BBC that his case had been referred to Supreme Court

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Saudi Arabia has postponed the public flogging of the activist and blogger Raif Badawi on medical grounds.

Mr Badawi was subjected to the first 50 lashes a week ago and was due to be flogged again after Friday prayers, although Saudi authorities had come under Western pressure to call off the punishment.

Last night, Mr Badawi’s wife told the BBC that his case had been referred to Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court.

The political stakes of Mr Badawi’s case, which included a charge of insulting Islam, have been raised by the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices and its subsequent publication of more cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohamed.


Amnesty International said a medical examination found Mr Badawi’s earlier “wounds had not yet healed properly and that he would not be able to withstand another round of lashes at this time”.

The doctor who carried out the medical check-up recommended that the flogging be postponed until next week, Amnesty said, adding: “It is unclear whether the authorities will fully comply with this demand.”

Mr Badawi, who set up the Free Saudi Liberals website, was arrested in June 2012 for offences which also included cyber crime and disobeying his father – a crime in Saudi Arabia. The prosecution had demanded he be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty, but a judge dismissed that charge.


He was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of one million riyals (£176,000) and 1,000 lashes after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as being too lenient.

Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for ‘insulting Islam’ on his liberal website

The US called on Riyadh last week to cancel the sentence of 1,000 lashes.

Since the attacks in France, the US and the EU have criticised the punishment of Mr Badawi, who had accused clergy of extremism on his website. Overturning his conviction would look to some Saudi Islamists like a betrayal of core Muslim values.

Against the background of regional turmoil, the authorities have issued tougher penalties against all forms of dissent in the past year, from women driving to social media comments supporting Islamist militants, and have increased the use of the death penalty – via public beheadings, including a woman in Mecca earlier this week, whose execution was filmed and leaked on the internet.

The judiciary is controlled by the top clergy, making it particularly uncomfortable for the ruling dynasty to overturn court decisions given that it is unelected and depends on clerical approval for part of its legitimacy.

In an example of the fury felt by conservatives, Islamist activist Mohsen al-Awaji told Reuters he would not even speak about Mr Badawi’s case because of his anger over the publication of new cartoons depicting Mohamed in Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.

“We don’t have time these days to think of this guy Mr Badawi because of the hatred taken by the West towards all Muslims when they publish these sorts of pictures against Mohamed. This is on the mind of everyone,” he said.

Mr Badawi, who was flogged 50 times in public a week ago by an Interior Ministry official, is to face the same punishment every Friday until he has received 1,000 lashes. He will then spend 10 years in prison.

There has been almost no discussion of Mr Badawi’s flogging in the Saudi press, underscoring official sensitivities over the subject.