First thing's first, let’s get you up to speed on this story:
A liberal activist sentenced to prison and flogging in Saudi Arabia will face a first round of lashes on Friday, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Raif Badawi, who set up the "Free Saudi Liberals" website, was arrested in June 2012 and charged with offences ranging from cyber crime to disobeying his father and apostasy, or abandoning his faith.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,666) and 1,000 lashes last year after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as too lenient.
"Amnesty International has learned that the imprisoned Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi will be flogged in public after Friday prayers tomorrow in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah," the international rights group said in a statement.
Yes, apparently rotting in prison for seven years and being whipped 600 times is “too lenient” a sentence for espousing unpopular views in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the real reason the sentence was revisited, however, is because Badawi is also guilty of blasphemy:
Raif Badawi was sentenced on charges related to accusations that he insulted Islam on a liberal online forum he had created. ...
As a result, starting tomorrow, this hapless blogger will catch "50 lashes" per week until he reaches his quota. This will take roughly five months or so.
Staggeringly, this is the punishment in Saudi Arabia for daring to think differently and criticizing the government.
For those of us in the blogging business, these kinds of stories strike a nerve. It’s difficult to imagine, perhaps, living in a pluralistic, Western democracy like ours, that a court of law in any country has the authority to dish out such severe and medieval punishments for speaking freely and openly. But they do. In a similar vein, renouncing one’s faith in countries governed under sharia law can also mean the difference between imprisonment and freedom -- or even life and death -- as demonstrated most recently by the strange but ultimately fairy tale-ending story of Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan.
I hope efforts by human rights groups and state governments can apply enough moral pressure to have the sentence commuted. But time, as they say, is running out.