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June 15, 2017 - Updated on June 16, 2017

Raif Badawi – five years too many in Saudi prisons

© Claude Truong-Ngoc
In the run-up to the fifth anniversary of Saudi blogger and citizen-journalist Raif Badawi’s arrest in Jeddah in June 2012, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for his immediate and unconditional release.

On 17 June, Raif Badawi will complete his fifth year in detention for creating an online discussion forum and will have completed half of his ten-year prison sentence, although his wife and three children (who were granted political asylum in Canada in 2013) hope he will get a royal pardon for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.


Convicted of insulting Islam, Badawi was sentenced in May 2014 to ten years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine of 1 million riyals and a ten-year ban on leaving the country after completing his jail term.


Raif Badawi has just spent five years in prison, a punishment that is out of all proportion to what he was supposed to have done," said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We ask the Saudi authorities to free him unconditionally so that he can join his family now instead of waiting another 15 years before seeing them again."


His wife, Ensaf Haidar, has tried to rally support all over the world for his release. Last month she was in London, where together with RSF and English PEN she met with the lawyers who are working on her husband’s case. “It’s still very difficult for us, his family, five years later, but I try to stay positive,” she said during her London visit.


Awarded the 2014 RSF Press Freedom Prize in the Netizen category, Badawi was subjected to an initial session of flogging in January 2015, which set off an international outcry. Subsequent sessions were postponed on various grounds, including medical grounds.


Badawi has received a great deal of support within the international community and has been given many awards in the past few years, the most distinguished of them being the Sakharov Prize in 2015.


The Saudi authorities accused him of violating article 6 of the cyber-crime law, which penalizes any online content that “undermines public order, religious values, public decency or privacy.” In particular, he was accused of criticizing and mocking the religious police on his online discussion forum, the “Liberal Saudi Network.”


He was first arrested in 2008, shortly after creating the website, and was released after several hours of interrogation. The site’s co-founder, human rights activist Suad Shammari, was herself arrested in October 2014 for posting tweets that were deemed to have insulted Islam and endangered public order. She was freed three months later.


Eleven journalists and citizen-journalists are currently jailed in Saudi Arabia in connection with their reporting. The country is ranked 168th in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.