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.
founding the website Free Saudi Liberals
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
Raif Badawi - United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Raif Badawi: 9 years in a Saudi prison - Deutsche Welle
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.