Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld an internationally condemned verdict against a liberal blogger who was publicly flogged after being found guilty of insulting Islam.
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the sentence of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old father of three who was lashed in January in a public square, is final and cannot be overturned without a royal pardon.
Badawi, imprisoned since 2012, initially was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for breaking Saudi Arabia’s technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures through a blog he created.
After an appeal, a criminal court in Jeddah last year stiffened the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was also banned from traveling abroad for 10 years after his prison term and fined €240,000.
In January, security officials flogged Badawi outside a mosque in Jeddah.
Saudi rights activists said it was meant as a warning to others who think to criticise the religious establishment, of which the ruling family derives much of its authority.
Subsequent floggings were halted as the Supreme Court reviewed the case.
One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that because Badawi’s flogging has been halted since January, the Supreme Court ruling may exclude lashings.
The lashes had been scheduled to be administered over 20 weekly sessions, with 50 lashes each week, according to Amnesty International.
The rights group has launched a global campaign to call for Badawi’s release and said yesterday that he remains at risk of being flogged.
Saudi Arabia’s Western allies, including Washington, have called on authorities to rescind the punishment.
The kingdom maintains that its judiciary is independent and has rejected international pressure as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
“The court decision is yet another blow to human rights in Saudi Arabia,” said Abdou Abdelaziz, a researcher at the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. The ruling will “trigger more criticism against the Kingdom” he said.
The initial verdict drew criticism from the United Nations, the European Union and others.
German Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the sentence could hurt ties between his country and the world’s top oil exporter.
In March, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem was blocked from making a planned speech at the Arab League in Cairo after she called the flogging of Badawi “close to medieval”.