A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today expressed alarm at the conviction by a Saudi court of online activist and blogger Raef Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a 1 million Saudi riyal fine.
“This outrageous conviction should be overturned and Mr. Badawi immediately released,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, Heiner Bielefeldt; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue; the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mads Andenas.
“Mr. Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, who has been convicted for peacefully expressing his views on religious and other issues,” they added in a news release.
They recalled the right of all people to “freely manifest their views in matters of religion or belief and to write, issue and disseminate information and ideas in these areas through any media without interference.”
The detention and charges brought against Mr. Badawi “appear to be part of an ongoing practice of prosecution against people who publicly express dissenting religious views in Saudi Arabia,” they added.
Mr. Badawi, the co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was detained in June 2012 on charges of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and for “insulting Islam,” after publishing a number of articles on his blog site and social media.
He was convicted in July 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. At the time, his lawyer claimed that his trial was marred by irregularities and contested the impartiality of the judicial process in the case.
In December 2013, an appeals court overturned his conviction and sent the case to Jeddah’s Criminal Court for review. However, last week, the Criminal Court toughened the sentence imposed on Mr. Badawi.
The experts reminded the Saudi Government of the international standards concerning the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief, and the obligation to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely. “Corporal punishment, such as flogging, violates international law, which prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” they said.
Mr. Badawi plans to appeal this new decision. However, his attorney may not be present at the trial as he was recently detained and prosecuted for “undermining the image of the kingdom” and “breaking allegiance with the King.”
The Saudi Government was urged to embark on “more comprehensive reforms” to bring its judicial system in compliance with international standards.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.