Saudi Arabia condemns foreign criticism of blogger case

Saudi Arabia on Thursday condemned foreign criticism of a 1,000-lash sentence that the kingdom’s highest court upheld against a blogger, rejecting “interference” in its internal affairs.

The kingdom “has expressed strong disbelief and condemnation” at statements about the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi Press Agency said, citing an official source at the foreign ministry.

Rights groups fear he could be flogged again as soon as Friday, despite appeals from the United States, European Union and France for his sentence to be rescinded.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of handing Badawi a “medieval” punishment.

Saudi Arabia’s judiciary “enjoys independence and the kingdom does not accept any interference in its judiciary and internal affairs from any party,” the Saudi foreign ministry source said.

Worldwide outrage followed a lower court’s decision sentencing Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting Islam.

But Badawi’s wife said last Sunday that the kingdom’s supreme court had upheld that verdict.

“This is a final decision that is irrevocable,” Ensaf Haidar told AFP in a telephone interview from Canada. “This decision has shocked me.”

She and the couple’s three children have been granted asylum in Quebec.

Badawi received the first 50 lashes outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on January 9. Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed.

“I was optimistic that the advent of (the Muslim fasting month of) Ramadan and the arrival of a new king would bring a pardon for the prisoners of conscience, including my husband,” Haidar said, referring to King Salman who acceded to the throne in January.

Badawi co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network Internet discussion group.

He was arrested in June 2012 under cyber-crime provisions and a judge ordered the website shut after it criticised Saudi Arabia’s religious police.

Badawi’s lawyer, Walid Abulkhair, who is also a rights activist, is behind bars as well.

Badawi and Abulkhair have been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian member of parliament Karin Andersen.

His supporters have launched a campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #backlash that has gathered momentum, and posted pictures of people with lashes drawn on their backs with red lipstick.

Saudi Arabia in March dismissed criticism of its flogging of Badawi and “strongly denounced the media campaign around the case”.

In his first letter from prison published by the German weekly Der Spiegel that month, Badawi wrote how he “miraculously survived 50 lashes”.

Badawi, 31, recalled that he was “surrounded by a cheering crowd who cried incessantly ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest)” during the whipping.

“All this cruel suffering happened to me because I expressed my opinion,” Badawi wrote.


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