Amnesty International has just broken some good news on Twitter:
This is a direct result of pressure not only from Western governments but also by ordinary people voicing their outrage on social media.
For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Raif Badawi is a 31 year-old Saudi writer who set up a website called the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, a platform he used to campaign for free speech and secularisation. Some of his writing has been translated into English here.
In 2012 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison, as well as to 1000 lashings. These were to be administered 50 at a time, each Friday, in public. The first of these sessions happened last Friday. Here is an account from someone at the scene.
In the last week, mainstream media coverage of the case has been putting increased pressure on governments to act and has motivated ordinary people to make their voices heard too. Amnesty International’s 5 ways to help Raif Badawi provided people who cared with an easy checklist of how to take action.
That work has paid off. Today’s lashings have been postponed on “medical grounds.”
But there’s a lot more to be done. For one, the lashings have been postponed, not cancelled. Just days ago, Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair had his 15-year prison sentence re-instated. And this case represents one of hundreds, if not thousands and tens of thousands of others which haven’t been publicised. We don’t know the numbers because Saudi Arabia doesn’t want us to.
What we do know is that flogging is an extremely common practice and that women who have been raped are often punished in this way by judges who refuse to distinguish rape victims from the those committing adultery.
When I used to teach English in Ireland, I remember how bemused my Saudi students were when I expressed horror at their casual descriptions of encountering public floggings.
Saudi Arabia is at the brink of a change of rule.Now is the time to send clear signals about what the West expects from the country and what it will refuse to tolerate.