The Prince of Wales is under pressure to demand the release of a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes when he meets the new king of Saudi Arabia today.
Raif Badawi received 10 years in prison and 50 lashes for 20 consecutive weeks for "insulting Islam" after he set up the Liberal Saudi Network, a website that aimed to provide a forum for public debate. A spokeswoman for the blogger has now called on Prince Charles to ask for Badawi to be pardoned.
Initial reports suggest that the heir to the British throne did mention Badawi's case in his first meeting with new Saudi ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud at Al Eragh Palace in the capital of Riyadh. Further details of the private discussion between the men are not yet known.
"They may be more receptive to his message than others," Dr. Elham Manea, an associate professor at Zurich University in Switzerland, told VICE News. "I do hope he goes beyond the flogging and demands the pardoning."
Upon arrival earlier today, Prince Charles was greeted by the Governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, at the start of a two-day visit to the strict Islamic country.
Amnesty International has called on Prince Charles to "pass on a few well-chosen words" to the new Saudi king, and Manea said that international pressure seemed to have helped put a temporary hold on the controversial punishment.
"Stopping the flogging is not the main issue," said Manea, however. "It's releasing him that is the main issue."
'Due to the fact that he also has built a relationship of trust between the two of them, there's a possibility his words may come across as more authentic.'
It is four weeks since Badawi was flogged on January 9. On his first punishment, Amnesty International accused Saudi Arabia of "outrageous inhumanity" and a video of the flogging was posted online.
Badawi's second 50 lashes were delayed, however, after it was reported that his wounds had not healed. His wife said that, as a diabetic who suffered from hypertension, he might not have been able to physically withstand another flogging.
Subsequent floggings have been repeatedly postponed in the wake of huge global pressure.
Manea said she was cautiously optimistic that the flogging would not continue and hoped that a possible intervention by Prince Charles could prove more valuable than any by a politician.
"Due to the fact that he also has built a relationship of trust between the two of them, there's a possibility his words may come across as more authentic," she told VICE News.
"Britain plays an international role when it comes to human rights. Ignoring the abuses and human rights violations taking place within Saudi Arabia would be very shameful."
Badawi's wife, who lives in Canada with their three children, is coping well, Manea added. "This is a very brave young woman in her 30s raising three children in Canada, working day and night," she said. "She is really looking forward to seeing her husband."
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, said in a statement: "We don't expect Prince Charles to give up the red carpets and state banquets and become a human rights campaigner, but as a man who knows the Middle East well, we hope that he will use this visit to pass on a few well-chosen words to his royal hosts.
"We know that freedom of religion is an issue close to the prince's heart, and in Saudi Arabia he will surely want to raise the outrageous case of Raif Badawi. We still need the UK government to do more on Raif's case, but Charles' diplomatic intercession could help secure this man's freedom."
Charles is in Saudi Arabia as part of a six-day Middle East tour that has so far taken in Jordan and Kuwait.
He is the latest in a string of world leaders to travel to the Saudi capital to pay his respects following the death of the nation's 90-year-old King Abdullah in January. He has enjoyed a good relationship with the Saudi royal family and last month attended the funeral of the late king.
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