RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi court sentenced Raif Badawi, the founder of a human rights group, to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes Wednesday over allegations of “insulting Islam,” an activist said.
Badawi, who has been behind bars since June 2012, was also ordered to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666/191,846 euros), the rights group’s chief, Suad al-Shamari, told AFP.
“He is a prisoner of conscience,” Shamari said, noting that there was “no criminal charge against him.”
“The ruling is unjust,” she said.
Badawi was sentenced in July 2013 to more than seven years in jail, in addition to 600 lashes, for insulting Islam, the religion of the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Concretely, the founder of the Saudi Liberal Network had criticized the role of the notorious religious police.
But an appeals court overturned the ruling, sending the case back for retrial. Amnesty International slammed Wednesday’s ruling as “outrageous,” urging authorities to quash the verdict.
Badawi “is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther.
“The authorities must overturn his conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally,” he said.
“The authorities seem determined to crush all forms of dissent through every means at their disposal, including imposing harsh prison sentences and corporal punishment on activists.”
Prior to his arrest, Badawi’s network had announced a “day of liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia.
Shamari said the network’s website had “criticized some clerics, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (religious police), in addition to religious fatwas (edicts) considered harmful to Islam.”
She said the government was not behind Badawi’s prosecution.
“Clerics have filed a lawsuit against him. The government tries to appease them, at our expense sometimes,” she lamented.
The Saudi Liberal Network has been active only online, Shamari said.
“Our activities remain virtual.”