Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its call for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested four years ago, and urges the Saudi authorities to show clemency for the month of Ramadan.
Countless messages of solidarity have been posted on social networks drawing attention to Badawi’sordeal. Convicted in May 2014 of insulting Islam, the blogger and co-founder of the “Liberal Saudi Network” was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, as well a heavy fine and a ten-year ban on foreign travel after serving the jail term.
“The authorities are still resisting the pressure of the international community’s appeals for the release of Raif Badawi, who has become a symbol of the suppression of criticism in Saudi Arabia,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Keeping him and other journalists, both professional and non-professional, in detention highlights the lack of freedom of information in this country.”
According to Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who heads the international campaign for his release, he began a third hunger strike on 10 June in protest against the denial of medical care for his back pain in Dhahran prison. She said he called off the strike two days later after getting permission for a medical examination on a still undetermined date.
Badawi’s imprisoned lawyer, Saudi Observatory for Human Rights founder Waleed Abou Al Khair, also began a hunger strike on 7 June in protest against the way he is being treated in Jeddah prison. He resumed eating on 10 June after being promised better treatment, including hospital access and access to the prison library.
The winner of the 2014 RSF Press Freedom Prize in the Netizen category and the European Parliament’s 2015 Sakharov Prize, Badawi was convicted under the 2007 cyber-crime law for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. He was subjected to an initial session of 50 lashes on 9 January 2015, but subsequent sessions were suspended following a wave of international outrage.
His lawyer, Al Khair, was arrested in April 2014 and was sentenced in July of the same year under the newly adopted anti-terrorism law to 15 years in prison and a 15-year ban on foreign travel on completion of the jail term.
The charges on which he was convicted include “disobeying and breaking allegiance with the sovereign,” “lack of respect for the authorities,” “contempt of court,” “preparing, storing and circulating information that undermines public order,” “inciting rebellion,” “publishing false information with the aim of harming the state” and “creating an NGO without permission.”
A total of 10 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.