Campaign Launched to Repeal Sentence Against Saudi Blogger

Saudi Court Harshly Punishes Raif Badawi Who Asked Only for Religious Liberty

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“I was optimistic. I was convinced that the Saudi authorities would be reasonable and release Raif Badawi. I sensed liberty, in fact, as if I found myself in his cell.

I awaited my release from prison, the moment in which would feel the fresh air, the warmth of the rays of the sun and the moment in which I would walk in absolute freedom.

I would return to my wife and to my three daughters.

I was experiencing what he would have experienced.

And I waited for the moment of my release from prison. […]

I was optimistic, but the news arrived as a slap.

Ten years of prison, one hundred lashes and a fine of one million riyals.”

In this way, the activist and university docent Elham Manea expressed on May 7, 2014, his disappointment, his anger, his grief for the sentence given by the Court of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, in the case of the blogger Raif Badawi.

The protest ( was held in Rome in front of the Saudi Embassy and was one of the first held to support Badawi.

Detained since June 2012 in Jeddah’s Briman prison, he was first sentenced to seven years and 600 lashes for having “founded the site of Saudi Liberals” and for having written and published on the same site, on his blog, on Facebook and Twitter his writings and other “offenses to Islamic precepts.» He was also accused of having attacked some ulema and institutions designed to have the Shariah respected, such as the Commission for the promotion of goodness and the prohibition of evil – otherwise known as the merciless religious police. Finally, he was accused of having undermined the public order with these acts, stated the long sentence of the Criminal Court of the district of Jeddah.

Proposed also in the same sentence n. 34184394 is the condemnation for apostasy, for having offended the Prophet, a condemnation that, as explained beginning on page 16 of the sentence, foresees for all the juridical schools, for the Prophet himself, the death penalty. Therefore, if the last incomprehensible and fierce sentence is already comparable to a death sentence, the most serious accusation still hangs over Badawi’s head.

The protests held last May 3 in Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Spain and other countries in which friends, activists, Amnesty International, and the American Center for Inquiry participated were of no effect. Neither were the writings and the denunciations.

That the situation itself was taking a turn for the worse was intuited last April 15, when Walid Abu al-Khair, Raif Badawi’s defense lawyer, was arrested with the following accusations: “disobedience in matters of the sovereign,” “lack of respect in dealings with the authorities,” “offense of the judicial system,” “inciting international organizations against the Saudi kingdom” and, finally, for having founded illegally, or without authorization, his association “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.”

Abu al-Khair, who already in the past had received threats, stated: “I don’t regret my actions, I’m in the right. If there is a motive for which to live in life, then everything becomes easier.”

It might seem absurd, but what is happening to Badawi and Abu al-Khair is the direct consequence of the Saudi anti-terrorism law approved on December 16, 2013. In it, the an article defines the word terrorism as: “Any criminal act, consequence of an individual or collective plan, direct or indirect, which seeks to attempt against the public order of the State, or to threaten the security of the society or the stability of the State, or puts in jeopardy the national unity or suspends the fundamental law of governability and some of its articles, or insults the reputation of the State or its position, or causes damage to one of its public functions […].”

In other words, terrorism is all that can affect the stability of power, the machine of hatred is thwarted only if it strikes the power of Saud. For this reason, the Saudi kingdom on one hand declares the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood  a “terrorist organization” and on the other condemns a young blogger and his lawyer for “attacking the public order.”

Placed on the same plane, therefore, is one who incites to terror in an explicit way, referring to verse 60 of the VIII sura – which states: “And prepare against them as many forces and horses as you can, to terrorize God’s enemy and yours, and others still that you do not know but God knows, and anything you have done in the way of God will be repaid to you and no wrong will be done to you” – and anyone who, as Raif Badawi, has written on his blog, when prohibited by the religious police to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, wrote a post entitled: “Best wishes to all peoples on earth for the feast of love, best wishes to us for the virtue.”

Yet on Marcy 3, 2014, King Abdullah invited, as the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported, to spread the culture of moderation and tolerance in Muslim countries, talking about “common responsibility” that concerns “governments, political leaders and non-governmental organizations.” If he was consistent with his own words, the Saudi king would not consent to a Saudi court accusing, as one reads on page 6 of the sentence, Raif Badawi because “his Facebook page pleases a million Arab Christians”. Therefore, when he writes that “the sword and the Koran are worse than an atomic bomb”, he strikes even more his own religion.

It would be enough to read the following pages of the sentence, in which sayings of Mohammed are quoted from the Koran by theologians to Muslim Jurists, to justify the death penalty of an apostate to understand that the one that preaches violence, that opposes fundamental human rights is not Badawi, not Abu-al-Khair, but the Saudi kingdom.

It’s enough to recall that Saudi Arabia is a country in which women cannot get a license and much less drive, a country in which Christians cannot wear the cross or build a church, a country in which Shiites are discriminated, a country in which the most rigid interpretation of the Shariah including laws of retaliation, flagellation and death sentences is applied, precisely as in the case of young Raif Badawi.

What is happening to the Saudi blogger confirms that when terrorism is condemned and there is the desire to protect human rights, it is necessary first to establish very precise definitions because one might fall into the trap of false friends. That Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi support “mistaken” human rights is very clear from a statement of Abdullah ibn Salih al-Ubaid, former president of the National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: “There are persons who consider some questions a violation of human rights, whereas we consider them a safeguard of human rights – for instance executions, the amputation of a thief’s hand, or the lashing of an adulteress.

«There are persons who hold that all Koranic punishments violate human rights. […] We, in Saudi Arabia, are part of the world in so far as general principles of human rights are concerned. However, in our country we respect the rules of the Shariah, so that what to others seems a violation of human rights is for us, instead, a duty in dealing with someone who has committed a crime or a sin.”

Well the future of Saudi Arabia and the credibility of international organizations must pass through a recognition of universal human rights, rights which have neither religion or color, rights which must never be relativized in the name of internal security, rights which cannot be subjected to a double binary of moral judgment.

This is the reason why the life of Raif Badawi, husband of young Ensaf and father of three wonderful girls, who now live in Canada with the terror of never being able to embrace him again, is becoming the lit
mus test of the will to defend the sacredness of life, of all human beings, no more and no less.

It is the occasion for Saudi Arabia to take a step forward towards a lucid and open interpretation of the Islamic tradition. On the other hand, the Tunisian intellectual Mohammed Charfi in his wise “Islam and Liberty” (Casbah Editions, Algeria 2000), addressing the subject of apostasy, recalled some Koranic verses in favor of liberty of conscience beginning with “Let there be no constrictions in the faith” (II, 256) — the whole to demonstrate that “God is not fanatic, whereas the ulema of yesterday, as well as the ulema and fundamentalists of today, are.”

Therefore, the Koran does not prescribe that apostasy must be sanctioned with the death penalty. Muslim jurists, as confirmed in Badawi’s sentence, justify the death penalty for the offense of apostasy with the saying of the Prophet Mohammed: “Kill him who changes his religion,” which, however, is a tradition that is not very reliable, because it belongs to the category of sayings transmitted by only one person.

Even the Egyptian theologian Gamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, has said: “They are apostates. But they are free to be so. God says: He who wishes believes, he who does not wish rejects the faith” (XVIII, 29. Just as he revealed that “the Koran does not put a ban on freedom of conscience.” “Religion cannot be imposed.”

On this matter Saudi Arabia finds itself at a crossroads: either it affirms clearly that human rights do not exist on its territory or it begins to truly respect them starting with the release of Raif Badawi and Abu al-Khair. 

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Valentina Colombo

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