The Freedom From Religion Foundation is cheering the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose 10-year sentence and barbaric 2015 whipping for “insulting Islam online” caused global outrage.
Badawi, now 38, was originally sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, a sentence which an appeals court soon increased to an unthinkable 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison, also imposing a fine of $267,000. After he was subjected to the first 50 lashes in 2015, the Saudi government, responding to the worldwide outcry, did not carry out the rest, and recently ended flogging as a form of punishment.
Badawi was able to call his family in Canada on Friday upon his release, but is subject to a 10-year travel ban, which the press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has pledged to fight.
Badawi was first arrested in 2012, charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience.” He had criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious police and called for an end to the role of religion in politics. According to the BBC, a judge later recommended he also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty, because Badawi refused to “repent to God.” His sister Samar has also been briefly detained for her activism.
Badawi’s writings have been collected in a book, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think. He has won the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Union. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who has worked tirelessly to free him, received FFRF’s Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award of $10,000 in 2018, speaking at FFRF’s national convention that year. She and their three children are now Canadian citizens, and the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously last year to grant Badawi citizenship.
“While we are so relieved to know Raif Badawi is out of prison, his plight is a cautionary tale,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We must demand the right to freedom of thought and conscience, which is under fire by theocrats around the globe, including in the United States.”
Gaylor adds that the Freedom From Religion Foundation will be reaching out to Badawi to offer him the Avijit Roy Courage Award.