According to unconfirmed reports, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Saudi Arabia, may now face a retrial for 'apostasy' which could result in the death penalty if he is convicted.
This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 2 March 2015.
According to unconfirmed reports, Raif (or Raef) Badawi, who was sentenced by a Saudi Arabian court to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine, a 10-year travel ban and 10-year media participation ban for “insulting Islam” and “founding a liberal website”, may now face a retrial for ‘apostasy’ which could result in the death penalty if he is convicted.
PEN is calling for Badawi’s current conviction to be overturned; for his sentence of flogging to be halted immediately, as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and for him not to be retried for ‘apostasy’ as this would breach his right to freedom of belief. PEN International also reiterates its call for the release of Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence.
For extracts of Raif Badawi’s writings in English and Arabic click here.
Raef Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah after organising a conference to mark a “day of liberalism”. The conference, which was to have taken place in Jeddah on 7 May, was banned by the authorities. On 29 July 2013, a court in Jeddah sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes after he was convicted under the information technology law of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and for “insulting Islam”. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.
According to reports, the appeal, submitted by Badawi’s lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, cited procedural and evidential reasons why the conviction should be overturned and Badawi should be freed. In December 2013, it was reported that the Court of Appeal had reversed the ruling of the District Court in Jeddah, ordering that Badawi’s case be sent for review by another court. Badawi, who suffers from diabetes, is reported to be in poor health.
On 7 May 2014, Jeddah’s Criminal Court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (approx. US$266,631) on charges of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website.’ According to PEN’s information, when Badawi appeared in court to collect a written account of the verdict on 28 May 2014 he discovered the insertion of two additional penalties: a 10-year travel ban and 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic and written media, both to be applied following his release. For more information about his case, please read PEN’s interview with his wife Ensaf Haidar here.
According to the Centre For Inquiry (CFI), in a post dated 17 September 2014, the Saudi appeals court in Mecca confirmed the sentence against Badawi, and states that the lashes will be administered 50 at the time, in public, every week after Friday Prayers. The first 50 lashes were given outside al-Jafali mosque in the port city of Jeddah on 9 January 2015. The following week, the authorities postponed Badawi’s flogging on medical grounds after a doctor said wounds from the previous lashing had not healed. On 16 January 2015 his wife Ensaf Haider, who lives in Canada with the couple’s three young children, said that King Abdullah had referred the case to the Supreme Court.
On 1 March, Ensaf Haider said that she had received information that Badawi could face the death penalty. The same day, his family posted the following information on Facebook:
‘We … received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.
This judge is biased against Raif. He has twice requested that Raif be charged with ‘apostasy’. His request was declined at the time on the ground that the Criminal court has no jurisdiction on cases that lead to death penalty. However, due to a new regulation issued by the Supreme Judicial Council on 19.09.2014, the Penal court has now jurisdiction over major cases, which are punishable by the death penalty, amputation and stoning.
We have reasons to believe without any doubts that the same judge has again asked the Head of the Court of Apeal [sic] to charge Raif with ‘Apostasy’.
It should be mentioned that this judge stated in his written verdict against Raif, that he has proof and is confident that Raif is an apostate.’
PEN International is also protesting the arrest of Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, on 15 April 2014. Waleed Abu Al-Khair is a lawyer, human rights activist and founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) who has also written many articles. On 4 February 2014, the Court of Appeal confirmed a three-month sentence against Abu Al-Khair imposed after he had been convicted of contempt of the judiciary.
According to PEN’s information, Abu Al-Khair was arrested at the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh while he attended the fifth session of his trial for other charges made against him in 2013, which include: “breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler and disrespecting the authorities”, “offending the judiciary”, “inciting international organisations against the Kingdom” and “founding an unlicensed organization” (Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia), and supervising it and contributing to the establishment of another (the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association – ACPRA); and “preparing, storing and sending material harmful to public order”.
Initially held in Al Hair prison, where there were concerns that he may have been subjected to ill-treatment, Abu al-Khair was transferred on 27 May 2014 to Briman prison in Jeddah. On 6 July 2014, the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, sentenced him to 10 years’ actual imprisonment, with another five years’ imprisonment which were suspended, a 15-year ban on travel abroad, and a fine of 200,000 Saudi Riyals (equivalent to approximately US$53,000) on a number of broad and vaguely worded charges that are believed to stem solely from his peaceful activism, including comments to news outlets and on Twitter criticizing Saudi human rights violations. On 11 August 2014 he was moved again to al-Malaz prison in Riyadh, over 960 kilometers from his family in Jeddah.
The Public Prosecutor appealed the sentence at the Court of Appeal in Riyadh, which on 15 January 2015 ruled that he should serve the entire 15-year sentence in prison, on the grounds that he had not shown any contrition for his “offence”.
According to MHRSA, Abu al-Khair refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court or defend himself against the charges. He also refused to sign a copy of the trial judgment or to appeal the conviction or his sentence. MHRSA stated on 12 August 2014 that it believes his prison transfers are a punitive measure for Abu al-Khair’s refusal to recognize the court. Abu Al-Khair is the recipient of the 2012 Olof Palme Prize.
Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. Criminalisation of the peaceful criticism of public officials and institutions violates international human rights law. Corporal punishment such as flogging also violates the absolute prohibition under international law of all forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 18 of the UDHR states that, ‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief’.