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Saudi Court Upholds Sentence of 1,000 Lashes and 10 Years in Prison for Activist Blogger

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court ignored international pressure to overturn the harsh sentence against Raif Badawi, who has been imprisoned since 2012 on charges of insulting Islam.

by Gillian Mohney
Jun 7 2015, 5:35pm

Photo via Hans Punz/AP

Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has upheld a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for a blogger accused of insulting Islam, despite international pressure to overturn the harsh punishment.

Raif Badawi, 31, has been jailed since 2012 for creating the "Liberal Saudi Network," an online forum used to discuss religion. The site was taken down following his arrest.

"This is a final decision that is irrevocable," Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar told AFP from Canada. "This decision has shocked me."

The court ruled that only a royal pardon could spare Badawi from the 1,000 lashes. In January, the blogger received 50 lashes in a public square to start the punishment, but the rest of the whipping was postponed due to medical issues.

Related: Imprisoned Saudi Arabian Blogger Raif Badawi Gets Geneva Summit's 'Courage' Award

Amnesty International called the sentence "a further stain on Saudi Arabia's already bleak human rights record," and "a dark day for freedom of expression."

"It is abhorrent that this cruel and unjust sentence has been upheld," Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program said in a statement. "Blogging is not a crime and Raif Badawi is being punished merely for daring to exercise his right to freedom of expression. By failing to overturn the sentence, Saudi Arabian authorities today have displayed a callous disregard to justice and to the tens of thousands of voices around the world calling for his immediate and unconditional release."

Badawi is behind bars with Walid Abulkhair, his lawyer and a fellow activist. The men are nominees to receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Related: With Executions on the Rise, Saudi Arabia is Now Hiring Even More Executioners

Saudi authorities freed Suad al-Shammari, the co-founder of the Liberal Saudi Network, in January. Haidar and others had hoped the postponement of the lashing along with the ascension of a new Saudi king would lead to Badawi's sentence being overturned. 

"I was optimistic that the advent of (the Muslim fasting month of) Ramadan and the arrival of a new king would bring a pardon for the prisoners of conscience, including my husband," Haidar told AFP.

The US State Department has described the proposed punishment as "inhumane," and US officials were among those who called for Saudi officials to overturn the sentence.

VICE News' Sally Hayden contributed to this report.

Follow Gillian Mohney on Twitter: @gillianmohney.