Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court is again reviewing the case of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, raising the possibility that his draconian sentence may be reduced, his family has told The Independent.
Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar said she had been informed of the development by a senior source in the Saudi Ministry of Justice. The blogger’s family said they were hopeful that the move by the kingdom’s highest court is a “good signal” that his sentence is under reconsideration.
Ms Haidar added that the news was “clouded with secrecy and ambiguity” and that she was still extremely worried for her husband’s welfare. “I do hope that it will be a beginning to correct the course of Raif’s case – I repeat, I am hoping,” she said.
“I cannot say that this is good news, just that I hope it is a good sign. I expect that the flogging could still happen at any time, especially as the court could confirm the verdict then return for more deliberation, and all of this is done in complete secrecy. We do not know even on what basis the court is making its decisions.”
Mr Badawi was arrested in June 2012 after criticising the kingdom’s clerics through his Saudi Arabian Liberals website and was later sentenced to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes. His treatment has been repeatedly condemned by governments around the world.
Earlier this year the Saudi Supreme Court upheld the sentence, suggesting that Mr Badawi’s only remaining hope was a royal pardon. But last month confusion arose when the UK Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood, told the House of Commons that his case was again being examined by Saudi judges. After trying for several weeks, his family say they have now established that this is true.
“We confirmed today that my husband Raif Badawi’s case has been returned to the Supreme Court,” Ms Haidar wrote in an email to The Independent. “The case now is under discussion again.”
While he has been in prison, the 31-year-old activist has received a number of awards for promoting freedom of expression and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Human rights groups have called for a concerted international effort to secure his freedom.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: “We have raised Raif Badawi’s case at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so. We understand that Mr Badawi’s case is still with the Supreme Court.
“The British Government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record. We regularly make our views well known including through the UN Universal Periodic Review process and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual Human Rights and Democracy Report.”
Stewart McDonald, the MP for Glasgow South who organised the Commons debate at which Mr Ellwood first mentioned the Supreme Court’s involvement, described the review as a “welcome step” but said he remained sceptical about the Saudi justice system.
“This is something that will be watched by governments, human rights groups and people around the world – not least of all Raif's wife and three children,” he added. “I await to see if there is any positive movement, and will consider how best I as a parliamentarian, and the wider campaign to free Raif Badawi, should respond.”
Karen Middleton, Amnesty International UK’s individuals at risk manager, said: “We were extremely surprised that a Foreign Office minister casually mentioned last month that Raif’s case was still being considered by the Supreme Court. The last confirmed fact from the Saudi legal process was the completely awful news in June that the Supreme Court had upheld the ten-year jail term and 1,000 lashes sentence.
“We’re now hearing rumours that there may be a further review of some kind under way. We can’t confirm this and need to be cautious, but if indeed Raif’s case is still before the courts then this does at least provide a chink of light. It’s a complete disgrace that Raif is still languishing in a Jeddah jail, and we want to see the Saudi authorities moving quickly to quash his sentence and release him.”
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