You probably haven’t heard of Raif Badawi.
As three heavily armed terrorists stormed the headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve, Badawi waited in a small, dark prison cell in Saudi Arabia contemplating what was to come. His sentence is 10 years.
Around the time millions amassed in the streets of Paris to protest the reprehensible acts of violence committed against journalists and cartoonists for the crime of free expression, Badawi received his first round of punishments.
Each week, for twenty weeks, he will receive the same.
A total of 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a 1 million Riyal fine ($325k AUD) for the crime of ‘peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression’, in the words of Amnesty International Director, Philip Luther. Of course, serving this full penalty is dependent upon surviving his public beatings.
Badawi, a type-1 diabetic, faces the all too real possibility of dying from his injuries. In the absence of adequate medical care, Badawi could be in mortal danger even without the risk of lacerations leading to infection – with them, his outlook is bleak.
The husband and father of three, who turns 31 today, was accused of apostasy, despite declaring himself a Muslim. The crime is a capital offence in many Islamic countries and the punishment of death is widely supported by mainstream Muslims, even in the Western world. Religion of peace, indeed.
Badawi, a writer, activist and founder of the website Free Saudi Liberals, was charged with ‘setting up a website that undermines general security’, ‘ridiculing Islamic religious figures’, and ‘going beyond the realm of obedience’. The offending words were both his own, and that of others who posted on his website.
Saudi media reported a guilty verdict for ‘founding an Internet forum that violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought’.
The crime is not a crime, and to treat it as such is a violation of the most fundamental of human rights.
The first round of Badawi’s public abuse was strenuously condemned by Amnesty International spokesperson, Said Boumedouha:
‘The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law. By ignoring international calls to cancel the flogging Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights principles.’
We all abhor the violence that occurred in the streets of Paris, even those who sympathise with the sensitivities of the religious, but we must be under no illusions; Badawi’s situation is far, far worse.
Perhaps it is defeatist on my part, but I’m resigned to the fact of crime. Acts of violence and terrorism are ultimately unpreventable. We should do all that we can to minimise the risks but, regrettably, if a deranged individual or crazed cult seek to inflict immense damage – especially if they are willing to die in the process – there is little we can do to prevent it.
Badawi’s fate is not at the mercy of a group of extremists. It is not beyond society’s control, and the role of Islam cannot be ignored. Saudi Arabia claims the Qur’an as its official constitution and implements Sharia law which prescribes brutal punishments up to death.
His sentence is sanctioned by the Saudi government as they simultaneously condemn the Charlie Hebdo murders, and endorsed by the Muslim public who – we are always told in the wake of these atrocities – claim to do likewise.
That the authorities can imprison, torture and potentially kill someone for the crime of thought in writing is a frightening and inhuman prospect. One which should concern you far more than the vanishingly small possibility of becoming a victim of extremists.
I strongly urge you to take the time to sign and share the petitions:
Amnesty International: https://campaigns.amnesty.org/actions/write-for-rights-raif-badawi
Amnesty International (Australia): http://www.amnesty.org.au/action/action/36113/
Amnesty International (Canada): http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1770&ea.campaign.id=32768
EDIT: This Guardian article details Badawi’s ‘horrific crimes’.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article specified the Qur’an (Saudi Arabia’s official constitution) as the source for Badawi’s crime and punishment. While arguably true, the definitive source for barbaric sentences up to death for thought crimes is the Hadith.