In Depth

Raif Badawi: Saudi blogger's wife calls for his freedom

Ensaf Haidar tells London audience her husband's 'mental health is worsening' after five years in jail

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's wife called for him to be released during a meeting in London today, three years after he was sentenced to 1000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Ensaf Haidar said her husband had wanted to "write his words freely and defend the right of others to do so", tweeted Sophie Baggott from a panel discussion on the issue organised by London law firm Doughty Street Chambers and campaign groups Reporters Without Borders and English PEN.

Haidar, who fled to Canada with the couple's children in 2014, will join activists for a protest vigil outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London later today.

What did Raif Badawi do?

Badawi was the co-founder of the Liberal Saudi Network, a website he used to criticise the harsh practices of the country's religious police and question the nation's adherence to the hardline Islamic Wahhabi sect.

In one post, he wrote that "states which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear" and urged Saudi Arabia to respect free speech and separation of church and state.

He was arrested by Saudi police in June 2012 and charged with "insulting Islam through electronic channels", an offence punishable by death in the deeply conservative kingdom. He was also charged with "founding a liberal website" and "adopting liberal thought".

An initial sentence of seven years in prison and 600 lashes was overturned on appeal. However, in 2014, a higher court sentenced Badawi to ten years in prison, 1000 lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals (£200,000).

Saudi Arabia is one of 33 countries where courts can order offenders to be whipped or caned as punishment.

[h5]What was the international response?

Badawi's harsh sentence attracted global outrage, with world leaders, human rights activists and the press uniting to call for his release.

"Saudi Arabia ought to be treated as a global pariah," The Guardian said in an editorial, while the New York Times called on King Salman to "demonstrate his magnanimity, grant Mr Badawi clemency and allow him to join his family".

A group of UN special rapporteurs on human rights called the sentence "outrageous", saying: "Mr Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, who has been convicted for peacefully expressing his views on religious and other issues."

They also urged the Saudi government to end the practice of corporal punishment.

In the UK, activists have called on Theresa May to cease the government's support for Saudi Arabia, which is the UK's largest arms export market.

What has happened since?

The Saudi authorities disregarded the global calls for clemency and in January 2015, Badawi received the first 50 lashes in front of a crowd outside the Al Jafali mosque in Jeddah.

Secret video footage recorded by a spectator shows him flinching as he receives a series of rapid blows to his legs, back and shoulders, before being escorted away by an armed guard.

Where is Raif Badawi now?

Badawi was supposed to endure another 19 weekly public floggings to fulfil his 1000-lash sentence. However, no further beatings have been administered, initially because of Badawi's ill health, although "no explanation has been given for further postponements", says English PEN.

Although groups such as Amnesty International continue to raise awareness of his case and campaign for his release, Badawi remains in prison.

Speaking in London today, his wife revealed his "mental health is worsening", said Reporters Without Borders UK director Rebecca Vincent.

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