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Saudi Arabia's Most Famous Blogger Is Now On a Hunger Strike in Prison

Raif Badawi — the Saudi blogger sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” — began a hunger strike after being transferred to an isolated detention facility.
Imagen por Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi began a hunger strike this week after being transferred to an isolated detention facility, his wife has announced.

Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for apostasy and allegedly "insulting Islam through electronic channels." His sentence was expanded in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Badawi has also been banned from carrying out media work or traveling abroad for 10 years following his scheduled release.

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Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized his jailing and the use of corporal punishment, which they consider a violation of international law barring torture. Amnesty International says Badawi is a "prisoner of conscience."

After he was initially flogged 50 times in public this January, international outcry led to a postponement of the remaining 950 lashes. Badawi, however, remains imprisoned, and future lashes still loom.

Related: Saudi Arabia's New King Likes Beheading People Even More Than His Predecessor

On Thursday, Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada with the couple's three children where they were granted political asylum, said in a Facebook post that her husband had been moved to Shabbat Central Prison, some some 50 miles from Jeddah. Haider, who has led a campaign to free her husband, said he had been on a hunger strike since Tuesday.

On his website Saudi Free Liberals, Badawi pushed the envelope in the conservative Kingdom, advocating freedom of speech and human rights until it was shut down in 2012. Two years later, Badawi's own lawyer, Waleed Abdul-Khair was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Daniel Arshack, a New York-based lawyer representing Abdul-Khair in the United States, says his client has suffered severe beatings while incarcerated.

'He is in prison now simply for speaking about human rights.'

In October, Badawi was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize, the EU's highest human rights accolade. Despite the award, Saudi authorities have steadfastly ignored calls to release Badawi.

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Since his imprisonment, Badawi's plight has come to signify the seemingly hardened stance of Saudi authorities, who for decades have played a delicate balancing act with the country's powerful clerical leadership.

This year, following the ascension of newly crowned King Salman, the country has stepped up executions. As of November, at least 151 people have been executed in the country — the most since 1995.

Related: Saudi Arabia Walks a Fine Line in Giving More Rights to Women

VICE News spoke with Haider during a trip to Washington and New York in the fall. She recalled meeting Badawi by chance, when in 2000 he misdialed — entering her number — on a friends phone. They began talking, and Badawi courted her. After a month, they were engaged.

"I'm with him 100 percent despite the high price we are paying," said Haidar. "Since day one that I met him I support his freedom of speech and he is in prison now simply for speaking about human rights."

"I know that Raif should be free, and that Raif shouldn't be punished," she said. "He was respectful of the government, and the laws, and the religion."

She said it was particularly hard on her children having their father away.

"Just simply things, like going to dinner — the kids notice that all the other kids are with both their parents," said Haidar.

On Thursday, she said that any harm that came of Badawi would be the responsibility of prison officials.

"We take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman to act on his promises and pardon my husband, end his and his family's ordeal and unite him with his wife and children," she wrote on Facebook.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford