Founder of Free Saudi Liberals, author Raif Badawi, imprisoned

Author and founder of Free Saudi Liberals Raif Badawi was jailed for "insulting Islam" and charged with multiple crimes, including apostasy. He is serving a sentence of 10 years and 1,000 lashes.

Raif Badawi
Jul 29, 2013
Also Known As:
Raef bin Mohammed Badawi, Raif bin Muhammad Badawi
Imprisoned, Tortured
Accused of:
Writer, activist
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Known For:

founding the website Free Saudi Liberals

Family Members:

Samar Badawi (sister); Ensaf Haidar (wife); Najwa Badawi (mother); Najwa Raif Badawi, Miriam Badawi (daughters); Terad Badawi (son); Muhammad Badawi (father); Waleed Abulkhair (brother-in-law)

Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian liberal, dissident, human rights activist, and former prisoner of conscience. He created a website called Free Saudi Liberals to promote liberal values in Saudi Arabia. Writing on the sorry state of his country’s political and religious landscape, he called for the separation of church and state and criticizing male guardianship laws. Beginning in 2008, his outspoken opinions caused trouble for him, with Saudi authorities harassing him and barring him from leaving the nation.

Then, in 2012, Raif was arrested and formally charged with insulting Islam. An apostasy charge, which could have sent him to death row, was also leveled against him, but his name was cleared of that particular crime after he recited the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. He confirmed that although he himself was a believing Muslim, every man and woman deserved a free mind and the same rights under the law.

Nonetheless, this did not save Raif from the verdict rendered in July 2013, which sentenced him to seven years in prison and 600 lashings for insulting Islam with the expression of his liberal opinions.

Raif attempted to appeal the ruling against him, but this only had the effect of extending his sentence to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Additionally, the verdict stipulated that, when released, Raif would not be legally permitted to leave Saudi Arabia or give interviews to any media outlets for another ten years. 

"I feel destroyed. But I don’t want to sit in a corner and cry. That would be letting Raif and my children down." - Ensaf Haidar, Raif's wife

In prison, Raif, who is diabetic, suffered from egregious mistreatment. Though his first 50 lashes were administered in 2013, none have occurred since, as he is likely too frail to survive any more. On more than one occasion, he has gone on hunger strike in protest of his living conditions, during one of which he was reportedly hospitalized. His three children, meanwhile, spent his sentence growing up without him.

The verdict on Raif sparked international outrage that continues today. Amnesty International was able to garner over 800,000 signatures on a petition demanding his exoneration and release. Meanwhile, Raif's wife, Ensaf Haidar, who fled to Canada with their children for the sake of safety, became a vigorous advocate for Raif’s release, holding public vigils for him every Friday night "for almost seven years." In 2015, she accepted the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on her husband’s behalf.

In March 2022, Raif was finally released from prison. Though his 10-year post-imprisonment travel ban remained, Amnesty International stated they would "actively work to have any conditions [on Raif's release] lifted." To Ensaf, who had been working for his release for years with seemingly no headway, her husband's release was sudden and unexpected.

"Raif called me. He is free." - Ensaf Haidar

Saudi Arabia

Of Saudi Arabia's 34 million citizens, 85-90% are Sunni Muslim, which, despite nearly a million Christian foreign workers, is the only religion legally allowed to be practiced. It has no written criminal code. Islamic religious law is the law of the land, and blasphemy and apostasy are specifically prohibited and systematically prosecuted. The country is a theocratic monarchy, and under siyasa policy, any act taken by the king must conform to Islamic principles. Islamic scholars, ulema, are directly consulted in the development of legislation.

Cases in Saudi Arabia
Shailesh Kumar detained nearly two years for blasphemy
Founder of Free Saudi Liberals, author Raif Badawi, imprisoned
Poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh sentenced to death on account of writings
Ali Abu Luhum imprisoned 15 years for apostasy
Indian expat Harish Bangera imprisoned for blasphemy in Saudi Arabia
Ahmad al-Shamri sentenced to death for announcing atheism online
Saudi columnist Hamza Kashgari exiled, extradited, imprisoned for blasphemy
Reformist cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki arrested and detained
Saudi attempts to detain ex-Muslim Rahaf Mohammed despite family threatening murder
Engineer Shankar Ponnam assaulted, fined, imprisoned for blasphemous Facebook post
Vishnu Dev Radhakrishnan receives 10 years in prison for insulting the Prophet Muhammad online