JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi Arabian blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” online has received a temporary reprieve from his flogging after doctors considered him incapable of handling another beating.
Raif Badawi, 31, ran the “Free Saudi Liberals” blog since 2000 as a means to provide a forum to discuss Islam. But in 2012, Badawi was arrested and charged with “insulting Islam” and “promoting liberalism.” He was sentenced in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, a fine of one million Saudi Arabian riyals—the equivalent of $266,060—and 1,000 lashes, receiving 50 a week for 20 weeks.
In the second week of January, the blogger received his first 50 lashes in the square in front of al-Jafali mosque while members of the public circled around him to watch.
“Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain,” an eyewitness who remained anonymous for security reasons told Amnesty International.
“The officer beat Raif on his back and legs, counting the lashes until they reached 50,” he continued. “When it was over, the crowd shouted, ‘Allah-hu Akbar! Allah-hu Akbar!'”
Badawi was to have received his second round of lashes the following week, and again last Friday, but doctors at the prison clinic concluded that he would not be able to physically withstand the flogging so soon.
But some state that the punishment is atrocious and are calling upon officials to free the blogger and father of three.
“Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity,” stated Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Program. “The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous.”
On Thursday, approximately 200 protesters gathered in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in London to express their disapproval of the flogging.
“It’s a de facto death sentence,” participant Philip Hall, 55, told the Guardian. “The human body cannot withstand it.”
Five religious liberty advocates have also written to the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, calling the sentencing a “grave injustice” and offering themselves to receive 100 lashes each on Badawi’s behalf.
“We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured,” the letter states. “If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi’s unjust punishment.”
It is not yet known whether Badawi’s punishment will resume on Friday. Doctors will likely again access the writer to discern whether or not he will be able to withstand the beating.
As previously reported, Open Doors International reports that Christians are forced to worship in secret in the country as it classifies Saudi Arabia as #6 on its “World Watch List” of the 100 most dangerous places to live as a Christian. Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and the “Mosque of the Prophet,” which contains the tomb of the Islamic prophet Mohammad.