[Marxism] Caning of Saudi Blogger Is Delayed Amid Protests
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Sat Jan 17 07:29:58 MST 2015
NY Times, Jan. 17 2015
Caning of Saudi Blogger Is Delayed Amid Protests
By BEN HUBBARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A lawyer in Saudi Arabia who founded a human rights
group was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His wife, a women’s advocate
who won a courage award from the State Department, says she is barred
from leaving the country. Her brother, a writer who ran a liberal online
forum, is also in jail and was sentenced to be caned regularly in a
public square over the next few months.
International condemnation of the writer’s sentence, which also included
a prison term and a heavy fine, has mounted since a video of him
receiving his first round of blows appeared on YouTube, and the State
Department and the United Nations have called for the caning to stop.
The Saudi authorities did not administer the second round of blows as
scheduled on Friday. But the case of the writer, Raif Badawi, has
nonetheless drawn new attention to the Saudi government’s harsh
treatment of dissidents for acts that are considered anything but
criminal in the West.
Adding to the scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s legal system are the rise of
the Islamic State extremist group, which, like Saudi Arabia, claims to
rule according to Shariah, and the attack on the French newspaper
Charlie Hebdo for its satirical portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad, an
act considered criminal in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government, which has joined the United States-led air
campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, condemned the
violence in Paris as a “cowardly terrorist attack which is incompatible
with Islam.” But at home, Saudi rulers strike hard at those who question
how they apply Islam to governance, rights groups say.
“There is just no tolerance for any kind of domestic dissent or
activism,” said Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “They
have made it a red line and a zero-sum game, where anyone who crosses
that line will be dealt with.”
The caning of Mr. Badawi is the latest step by the Saudi government to
punish a small group of activists in the western port city of Jidda who
have challenged the kingdom’s fundamentalist, patriarchal system, to the
fury of the state and conservative elements of Saudi society, including
their own families.
Speaking through Skype from Jidda, Samar Badawi said her problems began
after she fled her father’s house and moved into a shelter for battered
women. Her father, angry that she had left, filed a lawsuit against her
in 2009 for “parental disobedience.”
For her defense, she took on a young lawyer named Waleed Abulkhair, who
had started a group to track human rights in Saudi Arabia, and the two
found common ground in their activism.
“He was a rights activist, and his path was full of dangers, so would he
be able to find a woman who would put up with the thorny road he was
on?” Ms. Badawi said.
For her part, she liked how he valued women’s rights.
The couple decided to marry, but Ms. Badawi’s father withheld his
consent. So she sued him under a Saudi law that makes it illegal to
prevent a woman from marrying.
At the first court hearing in that lawsuit, she was arrested on the
disobedience charge and spent six months in jail, according to Human
Rights Watch. After she was released, she prevailed in both cases — hers
against her father and her father’s against her — and she and Mr.
Abulkhair finally married.
The couple worked together on rights campaigns, calling for women to
have the right to drive in the kingdom and criticizing Saudi Arabia’s
guardianship system, which generally bars women from working, marrying
or traveling abroad without the permission of a male guardian.
Ms. Badawi also sued the government in 2011 for not allowing women to
vote in local elections, a move cited by the State Department when it
gave her an International Woman of Courage Award in 2012.
“You are making a difference,” Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of
state, told her at the award ceremony, which was also attended by
But the Saudi government was pursuing her husband, barring him from
traveling abroad, detaining him for holding “unauthorized gatherings”
and charging him with various crimes, including seeking to overthrow the
head of state, tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary and forming an
unlicensed organization, according to a State Department report.
Mr. Abulkhair was convicted last year and is now serving a 15-year
prison sentence. The United States government says he was punished for
“exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Ms. Badawi has continued her activism. But she said that when she tried
to fly to Geneva a few months ago, she was told that she, too, was
barred from traveling.
Meanwhile, Ms. Badawi’s brother, Raif, started a website called “Free
Saudi Liberal Network” that featured writings by him and others who had
often criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment.
“He wanted to create an environment where there was an open forum to
talk about ideas,” said his wife, Ensaf Haidar, who spoke by telephone
from Canada, where she has political asylum with the couple’s three
On the website, which has since been taken down, Mr. Badawi criticized
what he considered religious hypocrisy, lauded Western legal systems and
said that atheists should have the right to state their views without
punishment, according to Saudi court documents.
Prominent clerics responded with accusations that he was seeking to
spread atheism, and he received personal threats, his wife said. Mr.
Badawi’s father, Mohammed Badawi, denounced him and his sister
repeatedly on television; in one program, the father said his children’s
minds had been “formatted” like hard disks and filled with ideas that
were foreign to Saudi society.
“I hope he will go down to the square of retribution, he and my
daughter, to receive their retribution in front of me,” the elder Mr.
Badawi said. “The reason: infidelity to God.”
Mr. Badawi’s wife said he was arrested at a supermarket in 2012. A Saudi
court convicted him of running a website that promoted “heresy” and of
not removing comments that were considered insulting to God, Islam and
prominent Saudi clerics, according to court documents.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 blows, to be given in
installments of 50 with at least a week in between; he was also fined
more than $250,000.
In the video showing the first installment on Jan. 9, a uniformed
security officer swiftly strikes Mr. Badawi up and down his back with a
wooden cane as a crowd looks on. Mr. Badawi squirms a bit, and the crowd
applauds and yells “God is great!” as he is led away.
Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research Center who often works
in Saudi Arabia, said that while the cases of the three dissidents had
raised alarm in the West, few people in the conservative kingdom were
bothered by them.
“These people have no support from the great majority of Saudi society,”
Mr. Alani said. “They think that those people are weird, and influenced
by the West, and trying to damage the interests of Saudi Arabia.”
He said the Saudi government faced competing pressures in dealing with
human rights issues, with the West calling for more openness and
tolerance of dissent while powerful conservatives at home want strict
enforcement and punishment. He said that international pressure might
have prompted the delay in the second round of caning for Mr. Badawi,
and that the Saudi authorities might decide that one round was enough.
“You need to send a message,” he said, “and the message has already been
Mohammad Ghannam contributed reporting.
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