Innocent, opinionated blogging? Ha, think again. Something as simple as blogging can change your life forever. This is exactly how 31-year-old Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi’s life changed drastically as he currently faces 10 years in prison, $266 000 in fines and worst of all: a 1000 lashes in total for ‘insulting’ Islam on an online forum on his blog titled the Free Saudi Liberals which addresses issues such as religion, liberalism and strong views about the Saudi Arabian government and the power it has within Saudi Arabia.
Raif Badawi’s blog Free Saudi Liberals was shut down by Saudi Arabian authorities after he was arrested in 2012 for violation of technology laws. Badawi risked his freedom in order to bring about change regarding religion in a sharia law country. Even though Badawi’s blog was shut down, extracts from his blog posts are still available on sites such as http://www.theguardian.com
One would assume that Badawi’s actions were not a serious offence but rather opinion-based. The Saudi Arabian government, who is strict about sharia law, did not take Badawi’s writings faint heartedly. The Saudi Arabian government wants to make an example out of Badawi by giving him 50 lashes every Friday after prayer time until his 1000-lash sentence is complete. Badawi received his first set of 50 lashes on 9 January 2015 in front of a mosque in Jeddah. An eyewitness stated that, “Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.” [Amnesty International UK]
People all over the world are showing their support for Badawi. Demonstrations are being held for his release. The Head of Amnesty International’s Canadian Branch, Alex Neve said that in Canada a petition was signed by over 150 000 people for Badawi’s freedom. The United States has also appealed to Riyadh to stop the flogging. Badawi’s three children Terad, Najwa and Miriam obtained political asylum in Quebec, Canada along with Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar. Badawi’s family continues to support him during his trail.
Free speech is not a crime, Badawi is not a criminal and this punishment is inhumane. Journalist or not, it takes a person with a little compassion and logic to realise that what is happening to Raif Badawi is not okay. If blogging were a crime then millions of people in the world should receive the same punishment as Badawi. But, blogging and free speech are not crimes and thankfully many people are starting to realise that. Badawi is now seen as a role model and an activist amongst people. According to Norwegian Media, Raif Badawi has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has also received the PEN Canada One Humanity Award in 2014, Netizen Prize of Reporters 2014 and Aikenhead Award 2015 of Scottish Secular Society.
Raif Badawi’s flogging has been linked to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo headquarters which also caused an uproar about freedom of speech. Two Islamist terrorists killed 11 people at the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Supporters held up signs that read ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (I Am Charlie) shortly after the attack. Both cases of Raif Badawi and Charlie Hebdo are examples of activists’ willpower to reject the standards of reason and to fight for equality. Badawi’s supporters took to Twitter to start the trends #JeSuisRaif (I Am Raif) and #FreeRaif to raise awareness and support for Raif and his family, the trend was also started in order to get Charlie Hebdo supporters to come together to support Badawi’s case. This shows unity amongst everyone fighting for the same cause. I am Raif, we all are Raif.
On 21 January 2015 doctors considered Raif Badawi unfit for flogging due to poor health. His wounds have not healed from the first flogging and he is seriously injured. Badawi has not been given any lashes since then and with our help, the flogging may be put to an end and Raif Badawi can be a free man again.
Here are ways to help Raif Badawi through Twitter:
Tweet Saudi Arabia and force them to release Raif Badawi. International pressure may make a difference by putting authorities in the public eye. Remember to add #FreeRaif in your tweets.
Ministry of Justice: @MojKsa
National Society for Human Rights: @NSHRSA
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: @KSAMOFA
Saudi Embassy: @SaudiEmbassyUSA