01/21/2015, 00.00
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Saudi dialogue centre harshly criticised for not condemning flogging of blogger Badawi

The centre, named after Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, opened in 2012. It continues to be silent on the fate of a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for having "offended Islam." Last November, Patriarch Sako criticised Muslim leaders for their excessive "silence" on the issue of violence against Iraq's Christians and Yazidi minorities.

Vienna (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Austria's chancellor Werner Faymann threatened to withdraw support for a Saudi-financed religious dialogue centre unless it condemns the public flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

"An inter-religious dialogue centre that remains silent when it is time to speak out clearly for human rights is not worthy of being called a dialogue centre. It is a silence centre," Faymann told an Austrian radio station.

"It cannot possibly be that we have a centre in Austria with the title 'inter-religious dialogue' while at the same time someone who actually engages in this is in prison and fearing for his life," the chancellor added.

Badawi launched a blog along with activist Suad Al-Shammari, as a forum for debate. The two called for an end to the all-pervasive influence of religion on the lives of Saudi citizens, targeting the action of the religious police and some Sharia-inspired rulings.

Last May, a court in Jeddah sentenced Badawi to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes and a fine of US$ 265,000. He was convicted for the crime of creating a "liberal" blog and "insulting Islam."

This month he received 50 lashes as the first instalment of 20 weekly floggings. Last week, he avoided the second round of floggings on medical grounds.

Named after Saudi king, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) opened in Vienna in 2012, in the presence of many religious and political figures.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Card Jean- Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, were present at the event.

This is not the first time that KAICIID and its backers have applied a double standard, insisting on dialogue abroad whilst saying nothing about repression at home, in Saudi Arabia.

In this specific case, the centre responded by condemning all forms of violence, but did not say anything specific about Badawi.

It is unclear whether the Austrian authorities will close the centre or only withdraw their financial support.

Last November, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako, held a conference at the centre, asking Muslim authorities to condemn violence against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq.

In his address, the patriarch also criticised Muslim leaders for their excessive "silence".

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