7 Years, 600 Lashes

By Lesley Hazleton   Published: July 31, 2013

Raif Badawi

Don’t dare think in Saudi Arabia. And don’t even dream of having an opinion.

This AP report is a pretty good indication of what would happen there to The Accidental Theologist:

The founder of a liberal Web site has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes after angering Islamic authorities in Saudi Arabia, the newspaper Al Wattan reported Tuesday.

The site created by Raif Badawi urged Saudis to share opinions about the role of religion in the country, which follows a strict form of Islam. According to Al Wattan, a judge in the Red Sea port of Jidda imposed the sentences but dropped charges of apostasy, which could have brought a death sentence.

Here’s an earlier report from Amnesty International on his case: “Raif Badawi, founder of a website for political and social debate, “Saudi Arabian Liberals”, has been detained since 17 June 2012 in a prison in Briman, in Jeddah. He was charged with “setting up a website that undermines public security” and ridiculing Islamic religious figures. His trial began in June 2012 in the District Court in Jeddah, and was marred by irregularities. According to his lawyer, the original trial judge was replaced by a judge who had advocated that Raif Badawi be punished for “apostasy”. His lawyer contested the judge’s impartiality in the case.

The charges against Raif Badawi relate to a number of articles he has written, including one about Valentine’s Day – the celebration of which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. He was accused of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (also known as the religious police) in the conclusion of his article.

The charges against him also mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website, including one insinuating that the al-Imam Mohamed ibn Saud University had become “a den for terrorists”. On 17 December, the District Court in Jeddah referred the case to the General Court in Jeddah, recommending that he should be tried for “apostasy”. On 22 December the General Court in Jeddah had Raif Badawi sign documents to enable his trial for “apostasy” to proceed.

On 21 January the General Court sent the case back to the District Court stating that they did not have jurisdiction to review his case and that they had found that he had not insulted Islam and therefore it did not amount to an “apostasy” charge. The general prosecutor however is still insisting that Raif Badawi be tried for apostasy. The case is currently before an appeal court to determine whether the case should be heard by the District Court in Jeddah or another tribunal, in particular the General Court in Jeddah, to which it was previously referred.

Amnesty International considers Raif Badawi to be a prisoner of conscience.

Act now to call on the authorities for his immediate and unconditional release.

About the Author

Lesley Hazleton (born 1945) is an award-winning British-American writer whose work focuses on the intersection of politics, religion, and history, especially in the Middle East. She reported from Israel for Time, and has written on the Middle East for numerous publications including The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, The Nation, and The New Republic.

Hazleton was born in England but became a United States citizen in 1994. She was based in Jerusalem from 1966 to 1979 and in New York City from 1979 to 1992, when she moved to her current home in Seattle WA, originally to get her pilot's license. She has two degrees in psychology (B.A. Manchester University, M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

She has described herself as "a Jew who once seriously considered becoming a rabbi, a former convent schoolgirl who daydreamed about being a nun, an agnostic with a deep sense of religious mystery though no affinity for organized religion". "Everything is paradox," she has said. "The danger is one-dimensional thinking".

In April 2010, she began blogging as The Accidental Theologist, casting "an agnostic eye on religion, politics, and existence." In September 2011, she received The Stranger's Genius Award in Literature and in fall 2012, she was the Inaugural Scholar-in-Residence at Town Hall Seattle.

Her biography of Muhammad was published by Riverhead Books in January, 2013. Biography source: Wikipedia.

This article is a reprint from her Accidental Theologist blog.

Article picture: Raif Badawi. Source: The Accidental Theologist.

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