Amnesty International staff have gathered outside the Saudi embassy in London to demand the release of a Saudi blogger, one year after he received the first part of his controversial lashing sentence.
Human rights activists gathered in front of the diplomatic mission on Friday for the vigil led by Amnesty International to demand the release of Raif Badawi.
The demonstration marked one year since the 31-year-old received 50 lashes in a public square in the city of Jeddah as the first part of his 1,000-flogging sentence. Badawi is also sentenced to 10 years in prison for his writings on the internet, which Saudi authorities described as an affront to Islam.
“Raif is still in prison he is still serving a ten year sentence and those 950 lashes are still outstanding, nothing has been withdrawn, so I hope that the attention that we and others are focusing on Raif’s case is at least stopping that, but we need to see much more,” said Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK.
“We need to see him released. This is somebody who has done nothing except exercise his freedom of expression,” she said.
The protesters in London were to submit a petition signed by 25,000 people to the embassy for the blogger’s release. A separate petition was to be handed over to the officials demanding the release of Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is sentenced to 15 years in prison over attempts to launch a website for monitoring human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
The protests come just a week after Saudi Arabia announced on January 2 the execution of 47 people, including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, over charges of terrorism-related activities. The move sparked global outrage with people in various countries, including Britain, holding protests in front of Saudi diplomatic missions.
“We saw just recently 47 executions on just one day, it routinely tortures its own people and it silences them. So Raif has done nothing that he should be in prison for and being treated in this way,” said Allen.
Badawi was awarded last year with the European Union’s top human rights prize, namely Sakharov, with the EU officials standing up in applaud during the ceremony in Strasbourg, France, to hail the blogger’s work for freedom of speech.
Amnesty has repeatedly criticized the UK government over its inaction in the face of mounting human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, where King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who took over after the death of King Abdullah last year, seems to be taking a much tougher line on dissent.
Amnesty organized similar protests in front of Saudi embassies in other European countries with reports saying that hundreds gathered in front of the Saudi mission in Berlin, Germany.
A Saudi blogger, who is in jail for criticizing the kingdom’s extremist Wahhabi ideology, is suffering from deteriorating health condition due to a hunger strike, his wife says.
“I am very worried about him. His health, both physical and mental, is very poor,” Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar said on Thursday.
Haidar also said she hoped her husband would end the hunger strike he had started early last month after being transferred to a new prison in the country.
Badawi has been jailed by Riyadh since 2012. The 31-year-old was found guilty of insulting the Wahhabi ideology and breaking the kingdom’s technology laws in 2014. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes as well as $266,000 in cash fine and a 10-year ban on overseas travel.
Criticism of Wahabism is viewed as a serious offense by Riyadh as the influential Saudi clerics who preach the ideology play an instrumental role in supporting the regime.
Badawi’s flogging is to be carried out in 20 sessions in front of a mosque. He received his first 50 lashes last January.
Haidar also said she spoke to her husband two weeks ago and received information about his health condition through a Saudi contact.
She said she was optimistic about her husband’s release after Swiss Secretary of Foreign Affairs Yves Rossier said in November 2015 that Badawi might receive a royal pardon.
However, Badawi’s transfer to a new prison shortly afterwards was not anticipated and this led to the jailed activist’s hunger strike, Haidar added.
“This was a surprise and counter to what we had heard. I hope that this hunger strike is not a sign that he has given up,” she noted.
On December 16, Haidar received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on her husband’s behalf from the European Parliament.
International human rights organizations have lashed out at Saudi Arabia for failing to address the rights situation in the kingdom. They say the rulers in Riyadh has persistently implemented repressive policies that stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly.