As It Happens

Princeton prof offers to take 100 lashes in place of Raif Badawi

A group of prominent religious freedom advocates in the U.S. have asked Saudi Arabia to either pardon jailed blogger Raif Badawi, or punish them instead....

A group of prominent religious freedom advocates in the U.S. have asked Saudi Arabia to either pardon jailed blogger Raif Badawi, or punish them instead.

"It's inhumane, it's unspeakably cruel and it's also contrary to international legal norms enshrined in covenants and agreements that the Saudis themselves have signed on to," Princeton professor Robert P. George tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

Badawi was arrested in 2012 for running a website called Free Saudi Liberals, which he used to advocate for human rights and social change in the region. He was charged with "insulting Islam through electronic channels" and sentenced last year to 10 years in prison, a fine of one million Saudi Arabian riyals (about $315,000 Cdn) and 1,000 lashes.

As It Happens has already spoken with his wife, Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Sherbrooke, Quebec. We also heard from Amnesty International regarding his case.

Now, George, along with six others, have written a letter to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia asking to end its "unspeakably cruel punishment" against Badawi or to each receive 100 lashes and "share in his victimization."

  Ensaf Haidar, wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal on January 13, 2015. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) 

"If it's going to go forward, we'd rather take a portion of it for ourselves than see a man brutalized in this way," says George. "You don't make a statement like that it you're not prepared in your heart to accept it. I certainly hope it doesn't come to that."

Badawi has already received the first 50 lashes earlier this month.

"It's just appalling what they're doing to this man for doing nothing more than speaking his mind in matters of religion and politics," says George. "We know that he was beaten very badly. He was due to receive the second 50 lashes a week ago Friday, but he didn't receive the second set because he had not yet recovered from the first set of 50 lashes."

U.S. President Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, meeting the kingdom's new ruler. However, he said in advance that he probably won't raise Badawi's issues.

  U.S. President Barack Obama (left) shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the start of a bilateral meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh January 27, 2015 (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters) 

"I'm sure it will be interpreted as a message that the United States doesn't like what it's doing to Badawi and to others... but that Saudi Arabia is too important, it's oil is too important to the world economy, and it's too important as a geo-strategic and military counterweight to Iran," says George of President Obama's stance. "That's not the message we should be sending."

"In all the great faiths, we find something like compassion is a virtue. Islam refers to God, to Allah, as the all merciful. Mercy is also a value in the Islamic faith as well as the Christian and Jewish faiths. This is a time for mercy."

Here's the full text from the letter George and others sent to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

    January 20, 2015   

His Excellency Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir
Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Your Excellency:


We were pleased to see officials representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia participating in the recent March in Paris to protest the brutal murders committed in the name of Islam at the Hyper Cacher market and the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The March was a demonstration in support of human rights and civil liberties, including the liberty to criticize religion, particular religions, schools of thought within religions, and religious figures and leaders. The Saudi presence was an important statement from the Kingdom about basic rights and liberties enshrined in international covenants and agreements to which the Kingdom has, to its credit, subscribed.


And yet, we note with sorrow that in the Kingdom itself Raif Badawi stands condemned under rules that flagrantly violate these human rights and civil liberties and is being subjected to an unspeakably cruel punishment of 1000 lashes. We call on the government of the Kingdom to put a halt to this grave injustice. We are informed that Mr. Badawi has already endured 50 lashes and will soon be made to endure 50 more. We are deeply alarmed by the prospect of his continued and grave suffering.


Compassion, a virtue honored in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as "suffering with another." We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims, if need be. We therefore make the following request. If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi's unjust punishment.


Yours sincerely,


Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence
Princeton University


Mary Ann Glendon
Member of the Board, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty


M. Zuhdi Jasser, MD
President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Phoenix, Arizona


Daniel I. Mark
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Villanova University


Hannah Rosenthal
CEO, Milwaukee Jewish Federation


Eric Schwartz
Dean, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
University of Minnesota


Katrina Lantos Swett
President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice


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