Saudi Arabia is facing intense pressure from the West to overturn a court ruling sentencing human rights blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and a 10-year jail term.
The US described the punishment as “brutal” and the UK Foreign Office said it was “extremely concerned” about the sentence, which was upheld by Saudi’s Supreme Court on Sunday despite widespread international criticism.
British campaigners called on the UK to end its arms trade with Saudi in light of the news, according to the Guardian newspaper, while the European Union has urged the Kingdom not to inflict any further lashes on Badawi.
The 31-year-old human rights activist and blogger co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network Internet discussion group.
He was found guilty in May 2014 of breaking Saudi Arabia’s strict cyber-crime laws and insulting Islamic religious figures by creating and managing an online forum.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine of SR1 million and prevented from using any kind of media or travelling until 2034.
Badawi received the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes he was sentenced to in November 2014.
Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed on medical grounds, and an appeal case was launched. But the latest court decision upheld the original sentence, prompting renewed pressure on Saudi to revoke its judgement.
Jeff Rathke, a US State Department spokesman, was quoted in Agence France-Press on Monday as saying: “As we previously said back in January, the United States government continues to call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi's case and sentence.
“We strongly oppose laws, including apostasy laws, which restrict the exercise of freedom of expression.
A spokeswoman for the UK Foreign Office added: “We are extremely concerned that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been upheld…We have raised his case at the most senior levels in the government of Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so.”
And UK campaigners have this week called for a radical shift in the UK’s relationship with Saudi, which is the UK’s biggest arms market. Andrew Smith, director of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is dire. The fact that it is also the world’s largest buyer of UK weapons is a sign of the real hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy.”
Both the EU and France have already called on Saudi not to inflict corporal punishment on Badawi.
A statement from the EU’s diplomatic service said: “Corporal punishment is unacceptable and contrary to human dignity.
“We reiterate our call to Saudi authorities to suspend any further corporal punishment for Mr Badawi.”
The statement added that Brussels would try to pursue talks with the Saudis on “the need to recognise and respect freedom of speech for all”.
Meanwhile, Badawi’s wife says she fears the lashing could resume within days, according to the Guardian.
Saudi Arabia rejects any criticism of its judicial system.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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