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Blogger Raif Badawi released after 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison: How criticism of Sharia laws, Kingdom of Saud changed his life

Badawi had to read the 'Kalma' (Islamic declaration of Faith) and testify that he was born a Muslim. It was only then that the charges against 'apostasy' were dropped by the court.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who had spent a decade behind bars for his alleged anti-Islamic views, has finally been freed. The development was confirmed by Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haider and son Terad.

In a tweet on Friday (March 11), Badawi’s son had shared a childhood picture of his father and two sisters. He wrote, “After 10 years my father is free!”

Ensaf Haidar, who had campaigned for the release of her jailed husband from Canada, tweeted, “Raif is free after 10 years in prison.” The Saudi officials did not comment on the development.

BBC reported that the Saudi blogger’s prison sentence ended on March 1. As of now, it remains unclear as to why Saudi authorities released the secular blogger.

Although Badawi has been handed a 10-year travel ban, Reporters Without Borders has vowed to help the Saudi blogger to reunite with his wife and children in Quebec in Canada.

“Saudi Arabia has barred other high-profile former prisoners from leaving the kingdom, presumably to avoid the bad press they might generate by speaking publicly about their experiences,” reported The New York Times.

Even while serving his prison sentence, Badawi was felicitated with Britain’s PEN Pinter Prize and European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

The Timeline of the blogger’s case

Raif Badawi founded a website by the name of ‘Free Saudi Liberals’ in 2008 wherein the blogger propagated his secular beliefs, criticised the harsh laws of the Kingdom of Saud and the imposition of Islam in day-to-day activities. He was charged for insulting the Muslim faith in 2008 but was released after interrogation.

In 2009, the Saudi government froze its assets and imposed a travel ban. He was again arrested in June 2012 for allegedly ‘insulting Islam through electronic media’ and ‘going beyond the realm of obedience’.

In December, the Saudi courts tried to charge him with ‘apostasy’ (renunciation of Islam) for reportedly like a Facebook page of a Saudi Christian and claiming that ‘Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists are all equal.’ It must be mentioned that the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death.

As such, Badawi had to read the ‘Kalma’ (Islamic declaration of Faith) and testify that he was born a Muslim. It was only then that the charges against ‘apostasy’ were dropped by the court. A year later in July 2013, the Saudi blogger was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for committing ‘blasphemy’ and founding a ‘liberal website.’

On filing an appeal against the harsh verdict, the Saudi court increased his sentence in May 2014 to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison, a 10-year travel ban after release and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (USD $266,558).

A video of the Saudi blogger receiving the first set of 50 lashes went viral on social media. The onlookers were heard yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ as Raif Badawi was tortured at the behest of the Saudi court.

This led to an international outcry and global condemnation from human rights activists. Due to Raif Badawi’s deteriorating health, the scheduled 950 lashes that were meant to be carried out over 20 weeks was discontinued.

The Crime of Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi had dared to establish ‘Free Saudi Liberals Forum’ and speak his mind, despite being aware of the harsh consequences under the totalitarian regime of the Saudi monarch. After being incarcerated and publicly flogged, the blogger’s writings have been translated from Arabic to English.

Although his website was shut down by the Saudi authorities in 2012, they are still available on the internet. In an article, The Guardian has reproduced some of his writings, which clearly reflect his desire for a non-dogmatic and free-spirited Saudi Arabia. In August 2010, Raif Badawi had complained about the stifling of speech in the Kingdom.

He wrote, “As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”

Screengrab of the news report by The Guardian

A month later, the Saudi blogger was seen highlighting the importance of secularism and tolerance. “Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world,” he had emphasised.

Badawi added, “Look at what had happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They built up human beings and (promoted) enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”

In his writings, the Saudi blogger had condemned the growing Islamism in the Arab nation and pointed out how the Kingdom’s policy of harbouring fundamentalists. He had slammed the demand of Muslim groups to build a Masjid and a community centre for Muslims at the site of the Twin Towers, which were destroyed by Islamists belonging to Al-Qaeda.

In September 2011, he had called out a Muslim TV preacher in Saudi Arabia for claiming that astronomers ought to be punishment for encouraging scepticism about Islamic Sharia law. “I advise NASA to abandon its telescopes and, instead, turn to our Sharia astronomers, whose keen vision and insight surpass the agency’s obsolete telescopes,” Badawi had mocked.

In his last post, prior to his arrest in 2012, the Saudi blogger quoted Albert Camus and wrote, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Raif Badawi was thus incarcerated, tortured and flogged for 10 years for speaking his mind and questioning the Islamic dogmatism, existing in the country.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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