Liberal blogger and activist Raef Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up an online liberal network and insulting Islam, Al Jazeera reports.
Badawi was first arrested in June 2012 in Jeddah for attempting to organize a "day of liberalism" conference, and was originally sentenced to seven years, three months in prison and 600 lashes for founding a liberal website, "adopting liberal thought" and "insulting Islam," according to PEN Canada. An appeals court overturned that ruling, however, and ordered a retrial.
The newly appointed judge then charged Badawi with "apostasy" (leaving the faith). In addition to jail time and corporal punishment, yesterday's ruling also carried with it a fine of 1,000,000 riyals (about $290,000).
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther told AFP that Badawi “is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression."
Suad al-Shamari, who co-founded the network with Badawi, told AFP that they had criticized clerics and the country's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on their site.
“Clerics have filed a lawsuit against him," she said. "The government tries to appease them, at our expense sometimes."
Badawi's wife, Ensaf Heidar, left for Lebanon with the couple's children after threats against him started to increase; she and their children now live in Canada, following threats that they might be kidnapped and brought back to Saudi Arabia. In a February interview with PEN International, she explained Badawi's motivation in setting up Free Saudi Liberals:
For Raef, liberalism is an intellectual project, which aspired to achieve an official status and to represent Saudi liberals on the ground and to fight injustice wherever it exists. This was the idea in 2008 when Raef first set up the Free Saudi Liberals website as a platform for this project to take shape.