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Saudi Arabia: UN rights experts outraged by extremely harsh sentence against blogger

GENEVA (15 May 2014) – A group of UN human rights experts today expressed alarm at the conviction to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a 1 million Saudi riyal fine against Saudi online activist and blogger, Raef Badawi.

“This outrageous conviction should be overturned and Mr. Badawi immediately released,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mads Andenas.

“Mr. Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, who has been convicted for peacefully expressing his views on religious and other issues,” they added.

The UN experts also urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to “embark on more comprehensive reforms to bring their judicial system in compliance with international standards.”

The human rights experts stressed that “Mr. Badawi was imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression” and recalled the right of all people to “freely manifest their views in matters of religion or belief and to write, issue and disseminate information and ideas in these areas through any media without interference.”

They expressed further concern that “the detention and charges brought against Mr. Badawi appear to be part of an ongoing practice of prosecution against people who publicly express dissenting religious views in Saudi Arabia.”

Mr. Badawi, the co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was detained in June 2012 on charges of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and for “insulting Islam”, after publishing a number of articles on his blog site and social media.

He was convicted in July 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. At the time, his lawyer claimed that his trial was marred by irregularities and contested the impartiality of the judicial process in the case. In December 2013, an appeals court overturned his conviction and sent the case to Jeddah’s Criminal Court for review. However, last week, the Criminal Court dramatically toughened the sentence imposed to Mr. Badawi.

The UN experts reminded the Government of Saudi Arabia of the international standards concerning the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief, and the obligation to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely. “Corporal punishment, such as flogging, violates international law, which prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said the experts.

The UN experts condemned the cruelty of the punishment and recalled that such attacks against the physical and psychological integrity of a person represent an affront to the dignity inherent to all human beings.

Mr. Badawi plans to appeal this new Court decision. However, his attorney may not be present at the trial as he was recently detained and prosecuted for “undermining the image of the kingdom” and “breaking allegiance with the King.”

ENDS

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Learn more, visit:
Freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Freedom of religion or belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx
Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Brenda Vukovic (+41 22 917 9635 / bvukovic@ohchr.org)

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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