Nine years in prison and 50 lashes is the high price that Badawi has already paid for creating Free Saudi Liberals, an online forum shut down by the authorities that was intended to open up debate in a society where conservatism and religion reign, and women’s rights and sexuality are still taboo.
Detained in extremely harsh conditions since 17 June 2012, Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a 10-year ban on leaving the country after his release. He was initially accused of apostasy, which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
“It is high time to free Raif Badawi, whose health is a matter of utmost concern,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “We appeal to the Saudi authorities to release him immediately by reducing his sentence and to drop the ban on his leaving the country upon release, so that he can finally be reunited with his family after all these years.”
After the first 50 lashes were administered, Badawi’s flogging sessions were suspended in January 2015, and the Saudi authorities finally abolished flogging just over a year ago. But he continues to be held in an isolation cell and his contact with the outside world is limited to two phone calls a week with his wife Ensaf and his children, who now live in Canada. These calls are monitored and are very short, when they are not suddenly disconnected.
At the same time, Badawi’st family has been receiving one disturbing piece of news after another, news that it is never possible to confirm: that he has gone on hunger strike, that he has been taken to a hospital, that he has been returned to his isolation cell, and that his state of health is now extremely worrying.
As things stand, Badawi’s torment will not end upon release from prison because, under the sentence passed by the court, he will have to spend the next 10 years in Saudi Arabia and will not be able to join his family, now living under asylum in Canada. Badawi’s wife is currently fighting for him to be given Canadian citizenship so that he can leave Saudi Arabia when released.
Saudi Arabia is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.