Saudi online activist, Raef Badawi was given a sentence of 600 lashes and a prison term of seven years on 29th July 2013 by a Jeddah Court. The convicted activist purportedly urged religious liberalization, violating the anti-cybercrime law of Saudi Arabia. According to Criminal Court the website founder is guilty of not only insulting Islam, but also because of the comments he made during television interviews. The court added three more months for “parental disobedience” because of the several public confrontations that he had with his father. Judge Faris al-Harbi, however, disregarded the apostasy charge, which is punishable by death, on Badawi following his assurance and declaration of his Muslim faith on July 24.
In 2008, he set up his online platform to encourage debate on Saudi Arabia’s political as well as religious matters. Following his arrest on 17th June 2012, he has been held in custody at the Buraiman prison in Jeddah.
Nadim Houry, deputy director Human Rights Watch Middle East, said that the callous sentence pronounced on the peaceful blogger made a mockery of Saudi’s claims of supporting religious dialog and reform.
In 2011, prosecutors charged Badawi for alleged infringement of religious values by his website. The evidence provided by the prosecution in the charge sheet included the five website postings made by Badawi and certain anonymous members criticizing Saudi’s religious authorities as well as two others that related to theological questions.
Badawi’s lawyer also informed Human Rights Watch as to how Judge Muhammed al-Marsoom prevented him from representing the online activist during a hearing at the Criminal Court in Jeddah on 17th of December 2012. The Judge told Badawi to renounce liberal beliefs and repent to God if he did not want to face the death penalty. Following Badawi’s refusal, the Judge recommended apostasy trial and referred his case to Public Court in Jeddah. The Public Court which handles serious crimes refused to hear Badawi’s case in January. A lengthy process ensued to determine the jurisdiction and the case was finally returned to Jeddah Criminal Court.
In March 2012, Sheik Abdulrahman al-Barrak, a cleric, declared Badawi as a non-believer as well as an apostate and ruled that he should be sentenced. According to al-Barrak, Badawi considered Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists to be equal. The cleric added that even if this was not Badawi’s opinion and a reproduction of others’ words, it cannot be allowed without a denial of these words.
Badawi along with his website contributors declared 7th May 2012 as Saudi Liberals Day with the hope that it would spark off open discussions on topics such as popular as well as politicized religion.
The wife and children of Badawi left the country in 2012 for fear of repercussions. You can find an online petition demanding Badawi’s freedom and safeguard here.