A Saudi judge recommended blogger Raif Badawi be tried for apostasy, a crime punishable by death, according to his wife. Badawai is currently serving prison time for the content of his Free Saudi Liberals website.
Badawi began the blog in 2008 as a forum for freely discussing religion in Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials acted swiftly to persecute the blogger for “insulting Islam” that same year. He escaped punishment by fleeing the country, returning when the charges were dropped.
In June of 2012, officials pinned Badawi with the same crime. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes.
Human rights watchdogs see the case as another example of Saudi Arabia’s failure to reform its iron-fisted governance, telling foreign media it has changed while still denying its citizens basic freedoms of speech and expression.
“This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison.”
Now Badawai’s situation has become even graver. His wife Ensaf Haidar told CNN that a judge found the imprisoned activist guilty of apostasy, or denouncing Islam. The punishment for apostasy is death.
The ruling has not been confirmed with the Saudi government.
Haidar lives in Lebanon with the couple’s three children, who do not know that their father is in prison.
Badawi’s attorney, Waleed Abualkhair, also Badawai’s brother-in-law, filed an appeal of Badawai’s original sentence, which he feared would drag out “indefinitely.” He is banned from traveling outside of Saudi Arabia, having been accused of “speaking to the foreign media with the intention of harming the country’s reputation.”
“Here’s the thing,” Abualkhair told CNN over Skype. “The government of Saudi Arabia, they want to show themselves outside Saudi Arabia that they are modern, that they are open-minded, that they want to change, they want to reform, that the problem is coming from the society, and that the society moves slowly. They keep saying that for the foreign media.”
“But actually inside, when we act with our society, when we want to reform, when we want to do something with our society, they keep punishing us.”
Amnesty International called Badawi’s case “just one of a troubling string of court cases aimed at silencing the kingdom's human-rights activists.”