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Raif Badawi

Global outcry as liberal Saudi blogger faces 1,000 lashes

Staunch defender of free speech David Cameron has yet to criticise the Saudi Arabian government

UPDATE: The 50 lashings due to be handed out today to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been cancelled on medical grounds. Amnesty International told Dazed, "Badawi was removed from his jail cell in Jeddah this morning and taken to the prison clinic for a medical check-up before the latest round of his 1,000-lash sentence was due to be carried out. The doctor concluded that the wounds had not yet healed properly and that he would not be able to withstand another bout of lashes at this time. He recommended that the flogging should be postponed until next week, though it is presently unclear whether the authorities will fully comply with this demand."

Badawi faces 1000 lashes after being prosecuted by the Saudi government for writing in defence of freedom of speech on his website Saudi Arabian Liberals. If Badawi is still healing from 50 lashes, what kind of state will his body be in after 1000? The treatment is utterly barbaric and Amnesty International is damning in its assessment of what it considers the UK government's "muted criticism" and has written to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to express disappointment.

As the debate about free speech continues to rage in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, one government is preparing to crack down on one of its most outspoken critics. Saudi Arabia is set to flog liberal blogger Raif Badawi with 50 lashes tomorrow as part of his sentence for publishing articles defending freedom of speech on his now closed website Saudi Arabian Liberals. 

So where are the western politicians who marched for free speech in Paris last week? Well, staunch human rights protector David Cameron has yet to do speak out on Badawi's plight, despite saying just last week that it was "absolutely essential we defend those values today and every day". We'd bet a barrel of oil that Cameron isn't really doing an awful lot about this case, possibly because Saudi Arabia is our primary trading partner in the Middle East.

Badawi has been hit with a ten-year jail term, a £175,000 fine and a thousand lashes, of which he's already received 50. The rest are to be given to him over a 19 week period, with a session of lashings every Friday.

Amnesty International is campaigning to raise awareness about Badawi's plight and is particularly focused on forcing David Cameron to act.

"Our ministers rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh," a spokesperson said. "Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK's credibility if it's seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia."

"David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear - that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail. At the very least, the Foreign Office should be calling in the Saudi ambassador and telling him this in person if they haven't already done so."

Badawi's wife told Amnesty International that she's concerned about his health after just one flogging. “Raif told me he is in a lot of pain," she said. "His health is poor. I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial; I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off."

David Cameron – potentially feeling the pressure – made a flimsy promise to "raise these cases in the strongest possible way" in parliament yesterday. Remember D-Cam, actions speak louder than words.