The first anniversary of the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes was marked by a protest by Amnesty International members and dozens of MPs in front of the Saudi embassy in Brussels at 11:00am on Thursday, for the 17th week in a row. They call for Raif Badawi’s release and the cancellation of his sentences, and make the same request for his attorney Waleed Abu al-Khair, and more generally for all Saudi prisoners of conscience.
The director of the French-speaking Belgian section of Amnesty International, Philippe Hensmans, delivered a petition with over 35,000 names, though it was only launched in Belgium in January. At the international level, over one million people have already signed the petition, which is exceptional in so short a time.
Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi’s wife, appealed to Saudi authorities. “A year ago you sentenced my husband to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. 4 months ago, you flogged him in public like a common criminal. Giving his opinion is not a crime, I beseech King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to release my husband immediately.”
The first protest took place following the first public flogging which was also the last. Raif Badawi may be tried again, this time for apostasy (abandonment of one’s religious faith, a political party, one’s principles, or a cause – editor’s note), the main charge against him initially and which can result in the death penalty. “Given that there have already been over 40 executions in 2015, the hardening of authorities in this matter is clear,” said Philippe Hensmans. “Saudi Arabia was always a strict country for human rights advocates. With the emergence of social networks, it may be the case that more citizens feel the need to express themselves freely. The system hinges on what religious authorities expect. Complex issues in the region are pushing human rights into the background, behind the necessity to resist advances by IS for example. But the country is so rich that it was always allowed more leeway when it comes to human rights. It is a major customer for Belgian arms sales, for example.”