This week marks the 5 year anniversary since activist Raif Badawi was arrested. Badawi, a Saudi Arabian, was arrested for insulting Islam through electronic channels and apostasy. The primary electronic channel was Badawi’s website, Free Saudi Liberals. After his arrest, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and 10,000 lashes. As of yet, he has not received the full 10,000 lashes. His wife and family fear that when Badawi endures the lashes, his mental and physical health will suffer beyond repair.
His website, Free Saudi Liberals ran for four years, discussed religion and politics and encouraged debate within its forums. In addition, The Human Rights Watch have released that the website hosted material criticizing senior religious figures and that this was a key reason for his arrest. The Human Rights Watch went on to say that the arrest was a clear violation of Badawi’s freedom of expression, particularly as his website acted as a host for peaceful discussion and debate. Amnesty International states that unfortunately, this is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia. Raif Badawi is just one of the many academics, critics, bloggers and activists arrested for speaking out and trying to spread the word on the multiple human rights violations.
While researching this topic, there were many comments online written by people stating that Badawi should have kept quiet and that, while apostasy is a crime, the Saudi government do not actively seek out those who reject the religion. Commenters on the topic also stated that the government only arrests those who make it clear that they reject the religion. Why is this a view that people consider as reasonable? Religion, in particular, can be something that is so fundamental to a person’s nature that they cannot hide it, nor pretend to be someone who they are not. To pretend to be someone who you are not, for the fear of arrest, goes against every aspect of human nature and free will. This is why for people who make comments, such as saying that activists should have just kept quiet “for their own good” will never have a leg to stand on.
While Raif Badawi’s sentence is at the halfway mark, his wife has stated that she remains unsure as to whether or not the 10,000 lashes will be carried out. A beating this harsh has the potential to kill and would be horrible to wait out the 10-year sentence while remaining unsure as to whether she would even see him at the end.
Although the website was taken down after Badawi’s arrest, extracts of his writing have been published online by journalist Ian Black. These extracts show that Badawi was simply invoking discussion on religious and political topics. He does not attack the Saudi monarchy during these discussions, rather the main focus of his writing seems to be discussing a separation of religion and state. This disparity of treatment of people who are doing the exact same thing, such as similar discussions on Twitter but from people in a different geographical location, is eye opening and is just another reminder that change needs to happen.