05/09/2014, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Ten years in prison and a thousand lashes for Saudi liberal blogger

A court in Jeddah rules against Raif Badawi, a blogger who had opened a website with another activist, Suad Al- Shammari, in which he had called for an end to the domination of religion on public life in the kingdom. For many, the ruling is "outrageous."

Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A court in Jeddah sentenced blogger and activist Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a "liberal" network and insulting Islam.

Arrested last June, Badawi was initially given seven years in jail and 600 lashes. However, an appeals court overturned the ruling and ordered a retrial. Later, on 15 April, the court ordered Badawi's network permanently shut down.

On 7 May 2012, the network Badawi co-founded with another activist, Suad al-Shammari, had called for an end to the dominance of religion over public life in the kingdom.

The network's website had "criticised some clerics," Suad al-Shammari said, like "the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (religious police), in addition to religious fatwas (edicts) considered harmful to Islam." As a result, clerics "filed a lawsuit against him."

In her view, "The government tries to appease them, at our expense sometimes", but for Amnesty International, Wednesday's ruling was "outrageous".

Its Middle East and North Africa Programme director, Phillip Luther, said that Badawi "is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression".

He "is the latest victim to fall prey to the ruthless campaign to silence peaceful activists in Saudi Arabia."

Saudi "authorities," he added, "seem determined to crush all forms of dissent through every means at their disposal, including imposing harsh prison sentences and corporal punishment on activists."

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