SAUDI ARABIA

Crusading Saudi internet editor sentenced to 10 years' jail, 1,000 lashes

Rights group slams sentence for web founder who called for 'day of liberalism' in kingdom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 11:57pm

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced the editor of an internet forum he founded to discuss the role of religion in the conservative Islamic kingdom to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

In July Raif Badawi, who started the "Free Saudi Liberals" website, was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but an appeal court overturned that sentence and ordered a retrial.

Apart from imposing a stiffer sentence on Badawi, the judge at the retrial in the criminal court in the Red Sea City of Jeddah also fined him one million riyals (HK$2.06 million). Badawi's website has been closed since his first trial.

His lawyers said the new sentence was too harsh, although the prosecutor had demanded a harsher penalty, news website Sabq reported.

The ruling is subject to appeal.

The prosecution had demanded that Badawi be tried for apostasy, a charge that carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. The judge in last year's trial dismissed the apostasy charges.

Amnesty International slammed the new ruling as outrageous, and urged authorities to quash the verdict.

Badawi "is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression", said Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

"The authorities must overturn his conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally.

"The authorities seem determined to crush all forms of dissent through every means at their disposal, including imposing harsh prison sentences and corporal punishment on activists."

Before his arrest, Badawi's network had announced a "day of liberalism" and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and charged with cybercrime and disobeying his father - a crime in Saudi Arabia.

His website included articles that were critical of senior religious figures such as Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a separate ruling, the court also convicted the administrator of a website on charges of supporting internet forums hostile to the state and that promoted demonstrations, Sabq reported.

The website said he was sentenced to six years in jail and a 50,000 riyal fine.

The authorities seem determined to crush … dissent through every means PHILIP LUTHER OF AMNESTY

The news website said another Saudi was sentenced to five years in jail for publishing a column by a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric on his website.

The world's top oil exporter follows the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam and applies Islamic sharia law. Judges base their decisions on their own interpretation of religious law rather than on a written legal code or on precedent.

Rattled by the uprisings that destabilised the Middle East in recent years, Riyadh intensified a crackdown on domestic dissent with arrests and prosecutions.

Last month, prominent Saudi rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abu al-Khair was detained incommunicado after appearing in court in Riyadh on sedition charges, according to his wife.

Also in April, a Saudi court sentenced an unidentified activist to six years in jail on charges including taking part in illegal demonstrations and organising women's protests.

Another was sentenced to three years in jail for spreading lies against King Abdullah and inciting the public against him.