Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia accuses western media of attacking its sovereignty

Liberal blogger faces possible execution for apostasy

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The Independent Online

Saudi Arabia has finally responded to the international outcry over the treatment of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, accusing the western media of launching an unjustified attack on its sovereignty under the “pretext of human rights”.

In its first official statement on the case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would not allow outside interference with Saudi Arabia’s judicial system and that pressure from the media and human rights groups would have no impact on his punishment.

Mr Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes – of which so far only 50 have been carried out – for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. Judges in the country’s criminal court want him to undergo a retrial for apostasy, which carries the death sentence.

“The Kingdom cannot believe and strongly disapproves what has been addressed in some media outlets about the case of Citizen [Badawi] and the judicial sentence he has received,” the statement read.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been one of the first States to promote and support human rights. Though these commitments are more than obvious, some international quarters and some media, regrettably, have emptied human rights of their sublime meanings,” it added.

“Instead, such quarters and media deviated towards politicising and abusing those rights to serve aggressions against the right of States to sovereignty. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will most certainly disallow such matter.”

The Ministry also said the Saudi constitution “originates from the Islamic Sharia which enshrines one’s sacred rights to life, property, honour, and dignity”. Under its interpretation of Sharia law, rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death. According to Amnesty International, the use of torture is “common and widespread” and domestic violence against women is “endemic”.

Mr Badawi’s case has prompted protests across the world and has been raised by several governments, including the UK. Over the weekend Germany’s economic affairs minister and vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, became the latest diplomat to raise the subject with King Salman.

Ahead of a meeting with the Saudi monarch in Riyadh on Sunday, Mr Gabriel said: “The harshness of this sentence, especially the corporal punishment, is something unimaginable for us and of course it weighs on our relations.”

Asked for her view on the Saudi statement, Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar told The Independent: “I don’t know what to say. I repeat my appeal to His Majesty King Salman to pardon Raif, and I thank Mr Gabriel for talking publicly about his case in Saudi Arabia.”

Human rights groups described Saudi Arabia’s official position as “deeply unconvincing”, pointing out that in the vast majority of countries around the world Mr Badawi would not even be in jail.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s UK’s head of policy and government affairs, said: “Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is utterly terrible. With a record of publicly beheading scores of people every year, imposing flogging and amputation sentences, banning protests and locking up peaceful activists – Saudi Arabia’s supposed ‘promotion’ of human rights is anything but.

“It should be pretty obvious that any aggression in the Raif Badawi case is coming from the Saudi authorities themselves, not least with their jaw-dropping sentence of 1,000 lashes for a blogger who dared to question the governance of the country.”

An FCO spokesperson said the UK government was "seriously concerned" by the case.

"The UK condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances. The Foreign Secretary has raised the matter with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior Mohammed bin Naif, and with the Saudi Ambassador.

“The UK is a strong supporter of freedom of expression around the world. We believe that people must be allowed to freely discuss and debate issues, peacefully challenge their governments, exercise the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and speak out against violations of human rights wherever they occur.”

David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, said it was “preposterous” for the Saudis to complain about the behaviour of the media. “Raif Badawi’s case has attracted massive global attention due to the cruelty of his sentence and because it illustrates the wider injustice of the Saudi system,” he said.

“Rather than railing against their critics, the Saudi authorities should overturn the sentence against Badawi, pardon and release him and end the routine use of corporal punishment, as well as court processes that flout basic international standards.”