WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States Thursday appealed to Saudi Arabia to annul a sentence of 1,000 lashes imposed on a Saudi rights activist and citizen journalist on top of a 10-year jail term.
Raef Badawi, 30, was sentenced on November 5 after questioning the Gulf kingdom’s direction on the now-banned Liberal Saudi Network, which he set up.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Badawi was Friday due to start 20 weekly whipping sessions of 50 lashes each.
“We are greatly concerned about reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
She said the US was calling on “Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment” and to review his case.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, fled to Canada with their three children and has been updating Reporters Without Borders about her husband’s plight.
“Although Saudi Arabia condemned yesterday’s cowardly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it is now preparing to inflict the most barbaric punishment on a citizen who just used his freedom of expression and information, the same freedom that cost the French journalists their lives,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said.
Some 14,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Saudi’s King Abdullah to pardon Badawi and stop what the watchdog called “a medieval form of torture”.