York PEN is protesting against the charges Saudi Arabian editor Raef Badawi faces. On December 25th 2013, Badawi was charged with ‘apostasy.’ If convicted, Badawi could face the death penalty. PEN calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Raef Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah after organising a conference to mark a “day of liberalism”. The conference, which was to have taken place in Jeddah on 7 May, was banned by the authorities. On 29 July 2013, a court in Jeddah sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes after he was convicted under the information technology law of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and for insulting Islam. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.
According to reports, the appeal, submitted by Badawi’s lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, cited procedural and evidential reasons why the conviction should be overturned and Badawi should be freed. In December 2013, it was reported that the Court of Appeal had reversed the ruling of the District Court in Jeddah, dropped a charge of apostasy, and ordered that Badawi’s case be sent for review by another court. However, on 25 December 2013 the newly-appointed judge reportedly remanded Badawi to the General Court on charges of “apostasy”, stating that the lower court was not qualified to deal with the case. According to PEN’s information, the apostasy charge is only a recommendation from the judge and not a decision. If convicted of “apostasy”, Badawi could face the death penalty.
Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Criminalisation of the peaceful criticism of public officials and institutions violates international human rights law. Article 19 of the UDHR also provides for freedom of belief. Corporal punishment such as flogging also violates the absolute prohibition under international law of all forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
York PEN will be campaigning for Raef Badawi in week 5 and 6 of spring term. Join us in a meeting to talk about Raef’s case, sign letters of appeal, and send him post cards.