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Prince Charles in Saudi Arabia: Heir to throne raises issue of jailed blogger Raif Badawi with King Salman

Human rights campaigners hail prince for highlighting plight of man sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website for Saudi liberals

Kunal Dutta
Tuesday 10 February 2015 23:59 GMT
Prince Charles with Saudi King Salman at Al Ergah Palace
Prince Charles with Saudi King Salman at Al Ergah Palace (AP)

Human rights campaigners have welcomed Prince Charles efforts to raise the plight of jailed blogger Raif Badawi with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

Mr Badawi, 31, a father of three, was arrested in 2012 after writing articles about politics and religion and charged with breaking Saudi's technology laws and insulting Islam.

He was sentenced in 2013 to seven years' imprisonment and 600 lashes, increased last year to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. He was also fined £176,000.

Prince Charles, who is visiting the Middle East, had been urged by Amnesty International urged to intervene on Badawi’s behalf, despite the constitutional complexities of a monarch speaking out on political issues. The Prince of Wales knows the Saudi royal family well and was among the world figures who travelled to pay their respects following the death of King Abdullah last month.

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

On Tuesday, he and the king talked privately via an interpreter at a palace in Riyadh and then sat together for a lavish lunch attended by hundreds of guests.

A source said: “It is understood the issue was raised by the prince during his meeting with King Salman. The reaction from the king was not unfriendly.”

Last month’s death of King Abdullah sparked calls for Britain to rethink its relationship with the Saudi regime, who Prime Minister David Cameron believes has an important role to play in the fight against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

There was disquiet at Whitehall's instructions for flags to be lowered on public buildings across England and Wales in tribute to the late monarch. Meanwhile many argue that a monarch should not be speaking publicly in light of what amounts to a constitutional pledge to protect the monarchy’s political neutrality.

Sir William Patey, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told the BBC that Charles had a way of raising human rights issues that did not make the Saudis “bristle”.

Amnesty International said the intervention was “encouraging and very welcome news”. “We always said we weren't expecting Prince Charles to give up the red carpets and state banquets and become a human rights campaigner, but we also hoped he'd use his unique position to pass on a few well-chosen words to his royal hosts about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

“From the various briefings from the Palace this week, we're cautiously hopeful that Prince Charles would raise Mr Badawi's outrageous case. We still need the UK Government to do more on Raif's case - including specifically calling for him to be released - but Charles' diplomatic intercession could help secure this man's freedom.”

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