SHAFAQNA – Supporters of Raif Badawi, the jailed Saudi activist and blogger, plan to hand over a petition with 250,000 signatures to the Saudi embassy in London on Friday calling for his release.
A separate petition for the release of Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, will also be handed over to mark a year since Badawi received 50 lashes in a public square in Jeddah. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.
Human rights groups around the world have taken up Badawi’s case. He wasawarded the EU’s Sakharov prize in October, an event that drew a standing ovation at the European parliament in Strasbourg.
Last week Saudi Arabia executed 47 people for terrorism, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric. As well as attracting international criticism, the move has inflamed tensions between Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies and Iran’s Shia leadership.
Amnesty International, which is leading a protest vigil at the Saudi embassy on Friday, has criticised the British government for not responding more firmly as Saudi Arabia appears to be taking a tougher line on dissent under King Salman, who came to the throne last year after the death of King Abdullah.
“Since the brutal flogging of Raif Badawi a year ago there’s been an intensified crackdown in Saudi Arabia,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty UK’s director. “We’re again calling on the Saudi authorities to release Raif Badawi and his jailed lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, and we’d like to see the UK government speaking out far more forcefully over Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.”
Tobias Ellwood, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, this week defended the UK’s approach, arguing that Saudi Arabia’s attitude to human rights could not be changed overnight and that any progress would need to “move at a pace that is acceptable to [the country’s] society”.
The Foreign Office said in July that it was seriously concerned by the Badawi and al-Khair cases. In response to an open letter from English Pen, which defends freedom of expression, it said: “We have raised both cases with the Saudi authorities. The foreign secretary has regularly raised the case of Raif Badawi with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and minister of interior, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Naif.”
The Saudi embassy in London has said in the past that the judiciary is separate from the government. The embassy has agreed to receive the petition of 250,000 signatures collected in the UK. The petition has been signed by a million people globally.
Badawi was sentenced after he created the website Free Saudi Liberals, which has since been closed down, as a forum for political and social debate. He was subsequently charged over other material, including an article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police, and for failing to remove “offensive” posts by others.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children fled to Canada after receiving death threats.